Don't leave the desert without them
I feel like I need more than my homemade Zbynek Michalek t-shirt to qualify for writing about the Coyotes, but like said t-shirt, I can assure you that I am an original.
It has to be said that Phoenix's story has evolved over the course of the last six months from one of depressing bankruptcy headlines to one of continually stringing victories (and fans) together, which makes my job here at The Checking Line a little easier. My self-diagnosed addiction to this particular team is almost a year old, but they've had my intrigue since a little after the lockout. After joining the hockey fandom almost 12 years ago with the Turner Stevensons and the Andy Moogs of the Montreal Canadiens that most would address with a "what, really?" or at the very least, "you're about five years too late there, sister" it's clear that if there's a bandwagon to jump on, you won't find me sporting a Pens' or a Caps' logo (I mean, I love me some Tomas Fleischmann but I digress).
It's not just the underdog nature of the Coyotes that makes my love run deep. It's also the previous knowledge of their current core of players, through World Junior Championships or Memorial Cup runs or having witnessed the fact that that kid from Hudson really does have a set of wheels on him, and he never broke through with that talent in Calgary but now he's got a chance to make the most of it in the desert. Phoenix is looking like the promised land of second chances, and with their current 4th place position in the Western Conference, it looks like Cinderella might get to go to the ball.
They're not exactly your high-powered, flashy team, but they've proven that they know how to win. A huge chunk of their offense comes from the guys on the back end. Their forwards are sound on both ends of the rink, and come up big when need be. Ilya Bryzgalov is reported by some to be a contender for the Vezina, and others say he's even worthy of the Hart. Probably the most important (and at times deceiving, to those teams who walk in not knowing any better) fact is that the Phoenix Coyotes know how to adapt to their opponent. Last night's 1-0 win against the Nashville Predators won't soon be on the highlight reels as one of the most exciting games of all time, but their comeback 5-4 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings more than a week ago is still being talked about.
Let's face it. We all know how the West is, and how different the playoff picture can look 50 games in compared to what it ends up being after 82. Last year around this time, the Coyotes' faithful (don't give me that look, they do exist) cringed as a horrific crash-and-burn episode unfolded, bumping them to the wrong side of that bold black line. This year's atmosphere, however, holds something different to it.
So what's going on here? Much of the talk has diverged to the "pack mentality" surrounding everyone in the dressing room, and the desire to win for and with the other guys in that room, a romanticized concept that some teams like the Coyotes might argue is not as dead as it's thought to be. A lot of credit has also been given to head coach Dave Tippett, who has gone beyond the expectations of a typical "defense first" structure. They have balanced their youth with hard-nosed veterans whose experience will serve to prepare for the playoff push. They've turned a lot of heads thus far--the most recent case had their captain Shane Doan capture first star of the week honours--and by all looks of it are thrilled with the prospect of continuing to do so.