Since I wrote that article on November 25th, the Coyotes have won 4 of 5 games...most of them without star center Olli Jokinen. More importantly, the Coyotes are beating teams that they will need to if they hope to make the playoffs. After losing to the Rangers, the Coyotes went to Columbus and beat the Blue Jackets. They returned home for a home stand and topped the Avalanche before narrowly losing to the Sharks. They then beat the Kings and the Maple Leafs last night.
So what has changed? For all of these game, Mikael Tellqvist was in goal and played very well until last night's game. He was pulled after two periods after giving up 3 goals on 9 shots. Of course Tellqvist is not a starting goalie and it was time for him to get a rest. Ilya Bryzgalov has had a few games to figure out what is wrong and needs to be on top of his game for the Coyotes to battle for a spot in the tough Western Conference. Last night was a good start as he stopped all nine shots he faced.
Martin Hanzal continues to show his brilliant flashes of offense as last night he had a hat trick and had scored 4 straight goals for the Coyotes over 2 games. While it is his defense that is making a name for him, his offensive skills are very high and the Coyotes cannot wait to see the big guy begin rumbling along and producing offense. He only needs two more goals to tie his total from last season and has almost half the points as well. If the Coyotes want to make the playoffs, Hanzal will need to turn up the offense while keeping the defensive play at an excellent level.
The most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL is on the Phoenix Coyotes. Not Ed Jovanovski or Derek Morris. Zbynek Michalek leads the league in blocked shots and continues to become an unbelievable defenseman. When Keith Ballard left, Coyotes fans were wondering who was going to take his role as a young defensive specialist. Michalek has certainly filled that role. Along with Kurt Sauer, Michalek is helping to make one of the best shutdown pairings in the entire NHL. Of course not very many people have heard of this young man who is making a name for himself. Being a +5 isn't a bad quality either.
Kurt Sauer is another defender who is helping to make the Coyotes blue line formidable. One must wonder if Maple Leafs Cliff Fletcher mixed up Jeff Finger and Kurt Sauer as Sauer is one of the steals of the free agent market so far this season. The Coyotes will need him and Michalek to continue their stellar play.
Continuing with the blue line, the play of Keith Yandle has put the Coyotes back on the map when it comes to offensive defenseman. At the moment, Yandle has 13 points and is growing into his own as a puck moving defenseman. His defensive play has been questioned at times but with steady improvement, he could become a top pairing offensive player.
Another surprise has been forward Enver Lisin. The speedy winger has been in the Coyotes organization known for his speed and offense but almost useless on defense. After being sent down last year he even left the Coyotes and it was thought he would never play in North America again. However, he has come back and improved on his play without the puck and it has done wonders. In 9 games he has 6 points. Along with Mikkel Boedker Lisin is the fastest skater on the team and has used it to show his worth in drawing penalties and creating offense. His continued improvement will certainly help an offense that has young players such as Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris having a hard time scoring consistently.
The Coyotes will be tested in the coming weeks as December is a tough month for them on the schedule. They play the Avalanche, Kings, and Stars two times each, not to mention the Red Wings, Wild, and Blackhawks as well. Will they prove me wrong?