Wayne sees a way up and out

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

The Phoenix Coyotes have nowhere to go but up.

Having missed the playoffs for the last five seasons, the crew coached by Wayne Gretzky is on the rise.

Heading into last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Coyotes were seventh in the Western Conference standings, three games over the .500 mark.

"We've come a long way," said Gretzky. "We're a lot better now than we were at the beginning of the season. I anticipate we'll be a better team by Game 60.

"Our veterans have been solid for us, we can't ask more in terms of leadership than we're getting from our captains and our young guys are coming along nicely. We have a lot of good, young players and they're exciting to watch."

Led by captain Shane Doan the Coyotes are a good mix of young talent and veteran experience.

They acquired centre Olli Jokinen from Florida to complement sophomore Martin Hanzal and are getting offensive production from rookies Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris. They're also getting outstanding goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov and Mikael Tellqvist.

"Our goaltending has really gone up a notch," Gretzky said.

"When a team feeds off a goaltender and believes he's going to stop everything you can make some mistakes and young guys are going to make some mistakes.

"There are going to be times when you're in tough because of your youth and inexperience, but our goaltending has been outstanding and our penalty killing has been really, really solid."

The Coyotes had the 28th-ranked power play in the league connecting on just 13.9% of their opportunities.

"I don't really worry about statistics on the power play," Gretzky said.

"What's important about the power play is that you score big goals at big times. Scoring key goals at key times is the most important power of the power play.

"We've been playing well and we've been scoring goals without our power play, so hopefully that will come around for us in the second half."


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