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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Secret is out on Coyotes' success

By Pierre LeBrun

There's only been one back-to-back winner of the Jack Adams Award since the NHL began handing out the trophy in 1974.

Can Dave Tippett join Jacques Demers (1986-87 and 1987-88) as only the second coach to pull off the feat?

Well, guiding the Phoenix Coyotes to their best start in a decade sure isn't a bad way to start the title defense of his Jack Adams.

The smoking-hot Coyotes have won six in a row entering Tuesday night's home date with the Edmonton Oilers, their 10-5-5 start is their best through 20 games since the 2000-01 season.

"Our team chemistry is starting to find its way a little bit," Tippett told ESPN.com Monday.

The Coyotes have posted wins over Chicago, St. Louis, Calgary [twice], Edmonton, Vancouver, capping the winning streak by sweeping through Western Canada.

The way Tippett sees it, the team's 20 games this season is a tale of two halves -- the first 10 games (3-4-3) versus the last 10 games (7-1-2). The team took too many penalties in the first 10 games and the power play struggled like it did last year. In the last 10 games, the power play has been terrific, the team has taken less penalties (none at all in Sunday's win at Vancouver) and the offense has picked up.

A constant throughout has been steady goaltending from starter Ilya Bryzgalov and backup Jason Labarbera.

It may just be that the Coyotes also had to realize that the secret's out. After a 107-point season last year, which stunned the hockey world, they weren't going to sneak up on anyone this season.

"Without a doubt," Coyotes captain Shane Doan told ESPN.com Monday. "And I think that's what you want. You want those expectations from the outside and from yourself. You want to be expected to win. I think as a team when you start to win, and the more you win, the expectations of the group change.

"Now, it's unacceptable for us to not give ourselves a chance to win every night, with our goaltending playing as well as it is."

Doan only has one goal this season, although to his defense, he's missed seven with injury and three via suspension. Still, imagine had someone told Tippett before the season that October would come and go with Doan, Ray Whitney and Wojtek Wolski all without a goal (they've combined for seven goals in November).

"I would have been wondering what our record would be, that's for sure," chuckled Tippett. "But in the end, it made us realize that we have to be that score-that-committee crew. It's allowed other players to jump up and show what they can do. Lauri Korpikoski has been a very good player for us. He's got five goals and 10 points. If you had said that he'd be fifth in team scoring to me before the season, I'd probably doubted that on you. But he's played real well. For every guy that had a slow start, we've had another guy jump up and do good things for us."

The Coyotes may not have a superstar forward, but they've got offensive balance, as underlined by Taylor Pyatt scoring twice Sunday night in Vancouver, Doan said. There's always someone contributing every night.

"You can go through our lineup and find maybe eight to nine guys who might get you 20 goals this year," Doan said. "When you have that variety, yes it makes it tough maybe in not everyone getting as much ice time as they wanted, but on nights where you're going, the coach is going is going to keep you going. I think that's huge for us right now. We've got someone different stepping up every game. It makes us tough to play against."

Because there are no big superstars in the forward group, Tippett doesn't have to dance around egos when he's doling out the minutes. How many coaches in the league can truly look at his 12 forwards every night and decide who to play based on only that night. No favors required.

"A guy like Marty Hanzal is a perfect example," Tippett said. "He wasn't very good in the Edmonton game and ended up playing around 11 minutes and sat a lot on the bench. And then Sunday night, he jumps in and plays a bit portion against the Sedins, plays 20 minutes, and was a real good player for us. You pick and choose, find a guy or a line that you think can make a difference on that night. It's been alright."

Now the team just needs Coyotes fans to buy in again like they did late last season. But once again entering the season without new ownership has left some fans at home. The Coyotes through Monday night were dead last in attendance, averaging 10,265 per game.

"All the years I've been here, the beginning of the season is always tough because there's just so many other things going on here in the Valley," Doan said. "As the winter goes on, more people come down from northern States and Canada, and the second half of the year we usually do very well. I'm assuming it'll be probably similar.

"Obviously the [ownership] instability has created some questions for the fans, but I think as we win and as the season goes on it'll fill up and we'll finish like last year where we were sold out."