Coyotes taking a shot at the playoffs

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:06 PM ET

Heading into the season they were simply an afterthought.

After all that had gone on with the Phoenix Coyotes ownership situation this summer, little consideration was actually given to the team itself.

Yet, halfway through the season, the Coyotes are making news for different reasons – they’re a pretty good hockey team.

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers the Coyotes were fourth in the Western Conference standings, 11 games over the .500 mark.

“Our group has been very good through the first half of the year,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “They’ve worked very hard, our goaltending has been good and they’ve bought into a concept of how we’re going to have to play to win and that’s a very strong defending game.

“We don’t score a ton, but the ratio between scoring and not giving up any has been pretty good, which has allowed us to get ourselves to be where we are, which is in a playoff position.”

The Coyotes have not made the playoffs in seven seasons. It’s the only thing that has seemingly been constant with the club.

A year ago, they faded down the stretch after getting off to a strong start and being in a playoff spot midway through the season.

“Now the hard part starts,” Tippett said. “We want to get better, because I think a lot of teams are going to get better. If we want to keep that spot, we’re going to have to improve as a group.”

It’s a group that has not changed drastically in the last year. However Tippett has been able to get out of them what Wayne Gretzky was unable to before getting pushed out the door.

“I think everyone gelled into the system very quickly when he was named coached shortly into training camp,” said Coyotes winger Peter Mueller. “We all attached to him pretty quickly, then we were able to pick up some veterans to help lead the way. We got off to a good start and hopefully that leads through the second part of the year.”

The Coyotes are getting the job done collectively.

Due to the instability of the team’s ownership situation, many of the players are on short-term contracts, providing them incentives to have strong season. All the negatively surrounding the club and the power struggle that ensued for ownership also provided motivation.

“I think all those factors are key,” Tippett said. “We talked about it at the start of the year. There was a lot of negative energy that was off the ice. We can only control what happens on the ice. And our guys focused on that and that was part of a motivating factor for our group.”

Their success is drawing attention at home. For a time the Coyotes couldn’t give tickets away to their games, now they’re starting to create a buzz in Arizona.

“We’ve played some very exciting games, we’ve played two or three games that went into shootouts. We really cater to the fans by taking late penalties, which makes things really exciting,” smiled Tippett. “We had a six-on-three against us one night and we were still able to win a game.

“Our group has played hard, the fans are recognizing down there that we have a very competitive team. We may not be the most skilled team in the league, but we’re very competitive and the fans appreciate that.”


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