GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes labored through the first half of the NHL season, slogging through a rash of injuries, a brutal schedule and inconsistency.
Once the calendar flipped to February, the Coyotes pulled together, got back to their defense-minded approach and shot up the standings.
At this point, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
In the previous two seasons, Phoenix put together winning streaks of at least five games after the All-Star break, propelling them toward a playoff berth despite being run by the NHL.
They’ve done it again without an owner this season, earning at least a point in eight straight games to pull within two points of San Jose for the Pacific Division lead.
So what is it about February that puts a charge into the Coyotes? They’re not even sure.
“I don’t know what it is,” forward Radim Vrbata said. “It seems like every year, we’ve needed a stretch like that.”
Rest has had something to do with it this season.
The first half of the season was an unmerciful mix of key injuries and a difficult schedule front-loaded with long road trips. Phoenix players missed a combined 84 games, including 18 by goalie Mike Smith and center Martin Hanzal, and the team racked up an estimated 28,000 miles the six weeks before the All-Star break.
With a week off to heal and rest, the Coyotes came back refreshed, following a well-played loss to Anaheim in their first post-break game with a 7-0-1 stretch that moved them from 12th in the Western Conference to seventh, two points ahead of Calgary and the Kings.
“We were pretty tired at the end of the stretch that we went through …,” captain Shane Doan said. “Once the All-Star break got here, we were able to get some rest and some confidence instead of trying to just survive.”
Phoenix is still beset by injuries, but getting back to their work-hard-all-the-time basics and a dash of confidence has led the Coyotes through their recent surge.
Under coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix isn’t a team that’s flashy or has star players who can carry everyone else. When the Coyotes are playing well, they’re sound defensively, scoring opportunistically and grinding out tight victories as a team.
“Winning is a byproduct of how you play,” Tippett said. “What we’ve done is we’ve got ourselves in a position where we’ve played some solid games. Our goaltending has been excellent, we’ve had timely scoring and found different ways to win hockey games. When you do that, you earn that confidence to feel you can win every game.”