NHLI via Getty Images
by Seth Askelson
As the final buzzer sounded to signal the end of the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes season, everyone in the organization knew that there were changes that were needed.
“Our group knows that it’s a new challenge [this season],” head coach Dave Tippett said. “The atmosphere is definitely better.”
The Coyotes finished last season with the worst record in franchise history, going 24-50-8 with 56 points, and finishing in last place in the Western Conference. They were heartbroken in the draft lottery, as they watched the Edmonton Oilers jump up in front of them and get the number 1 overall pick, and they missed out on two generational talents.
Though the Coyotes were not able to pick up an immediate star, they were able to add Dylan Strome, who led the entire Ontario Hockey League in points last year with 128 point (45 goals and 84 assists) and was the best player for the future as the Coyotes looked to become stronger up the middle.
The season so far has started out really well for the Coyotes, as they were able to pick up wins in each of their first three games.
“I think we’ve shown that we are younger, and work hard and compete with those big teams,” defenseman Michael Stone said.
Solid goaltending has been a major factor in the hot start for the team. Last season, it was a major problem for the Coyotes, as Mike Smith, the highly paid goaltender, struggled mightily.
He finished with a record of 14-42-5 and posting a 3.16 goals against average with a .904 save percentage, all career worsts. Also for the first time of the career, he did not post a shutout.
Smith finished the season strong, and he’s been able to carry it into the early part of this season. Though the numbers aren’t great, 4-3-1 with a .902 save percentage, he has really given a boost to his team when they’ve needed it.
The Coyotes start can also be contributed to their young talent. As of October 26, Domi is second among rookies with 11 and both Domi and Duclair are tied with McDavid for the most goals among rookies with five.
“Our young guys have come in and played well, and our veteran guys have come in and tried to hold up their end of the bargain,” Tippett said.
The Coyotes are not expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, but their hot start has caught the entire league by surprise. The different attitude in the locker room and on the ice has contributed to the early turnaround.
The team recently returned from a 5 game, East Coast road trip. They went 2-2-1, picking up 5 out of a possible 10 points. It ended on a bad note though, losing 6-0 against the Bruins in Boston.
“I knew the first ten games from when I looked at the schedule at the first of the year that it was going to be a challenge,” Tippett said. “I like the way we competed. We won different ways.”
Tippett also breaks the season down into ten game segments. Through the first ten games the team is where the coach thought it would be.
“There’s certain standards that we achieved and some that we didn’t, and that’s the way it goes most segments,” Tippett said about this first ten game segment.
As of November 2, the Coyotes are currently 5-5-1 for 11 points, good enough for fourth in the Pacific Division and tenth in the Western Confernece.