Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Tonight's game between the Predators and Coyotes brings back familiar foes from last spring's playoffs. Carl Putnam from SB Nation's Phoenix Coyotes blog, Five For Howling, answers a few questions on how the Yotes are faring these days.
1) Former Pred Steve Sullivan is tearing it up for you guys. Where does he fit in the lineup these days, and what has been the key to his success?
Sullivan was signed to replace Ray Whitney. He started the season taking Whitney's spot on a line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. However, he wound up having success with Antoine Vermette & Shane Doan, so [head coach Dave] Tippett has kept the line together. Sullivan was a non-factor in their last game with the Kings. Similar to Whitney's struggles with L.A. last year, Sullivan's lack of size and physical game may have been the reason why. Sullivan's success has been driven by his stick skills combined with the ability to find creases in defenses where he can sneak in and drive the net.
2) We're used to the Coyotes playing a similarly tight, disciplined style of play as the Predators, so it's surprising to see them giving up the most goals in the league. Is this playoff hangover, or are there more fundamental issues at work?
Probably a combination of both along with free agent losses and injuries. The players may have gotten a bit overconfident after last year's playoff run. Instead of looking like a disciplined Dave Tippett squad, they've looked more like a bunch of turnover-happy rookies.
The concern I have is the team's two best defensive defensemen last season were Rostislav Klesla and Adrian Aucoin. Klesla has been out injured for several games and Aucoin signed with Columbus as a free agent. The Coyotes traded to get one of their former blueliners, Zbynek Michalek, back in the offseason to replace Aucoin. So far Z has been inconsistent in his play and was probably the worst defender on the ice in their last contest. The forwards don't get a pass either. They have been turning the puck over and slow to backcheck at times. While Mike Smith and Jason Labarbera haven't been perfect in net, defensive breakdowns by skaters have been the biggest reason for the Yotes surrendering so many goals.
3) How has the mood changed among Coyotes fans since last season's playoff run? Has the bandwagon effect carried over into this season?
I would say the mood has changed slightly. The team's playoff success increased their season ticket base and increased expectations coming into this season. I noticed the proportion of Coyotes fans to Blackhawks fans was better than in the recent past and the energy level at the two games I attended was a bit higher than in recent years as well. However, the metro area as a whole still hasn't jumped on the bandwagon.
The one concern I have besides the need to further expand the fanbase itself is expectations.The performances of undermanned squads since Dave Tippett's arrival have created expectations here which may not be totally realistic.
Thanks to Carl for the feedback, and make sure you head over to check out Five For Howlings' preview of tonight's game (8:00 p.m. Central on FS-TN).