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Sunday, April 17, 2011
Coyotes need to look to past to win now

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes need to channel the Phoenix Coyotes of 2009-10 to get back into their first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings.

The club that pushed these same Red Wings to seven games last season played at a level above this current Coyotes version, and it shows as the Desert Dogs stare down a 2-0 deficit heading into Game 3 on Monday night.

The Coyotes need to tighten up defensively, get more saves from star netminder Ilya Bryzgalov and show more team discipline in order to avoid the penalty box. A year ago, they were getting those elements on most nights.

"The identity we want is still the same," Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said Sunday after practice. "I think it's been harder, we haven't done as good a job this year as last. Some of that is expectations have gone up, and people we are playing are treating us different than the year before. But our same mindset of how we have to play and what we have to do to be successful is a similar identity."

Generally regarded as the hardest-working team in the NHL last season, the Coyotes need to rediscover that trait this week. Captain Shane Doan has been a man on a mission in this series, leading the club with four points (2-2) and hitting every Red Wing in sight. He's providing quality shift after quality shift. But he needs help.

Shane Doan
Captain Shane Doan has been a man on a mission in this series, leading the club with four points (2-2) and hitting every Red Wing in sight.

"A guy like Doaner is getting rewarded for all that work and a guy that goes out [and does] what he does," Tippett said. "A few more guys should take notice of that and say, 'Let's jump on this bandwagon.'"

Brygalov needs to be sharper. A Vezina Trophy finalist last season and deservedly so, the UFA-to-be hasn't been at his very best through two games. He's allowed eight goals in two games, and while it's true he's going to get way more work than his counterpart Jimmy Howard, Bryzgalov has to win the goalie duel for the Coyotes to have any chance.

To make matters worse, veteran blueliner Ed Jovanovski is a question mark for Game 3 with an upper body injury. It's a defensive core that's already struggling to find a matchup for Red Wings wizard Pavel Datsyuk and not having Jovanovski would be a tough blow. At least they won't have to face Henrik Zetterberg for a third straight game. The star center skated Sunday but Wings head coach Mike Babcock told ESPN.com that Zetterberg would be out again Monday night.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, face a rough road. They must win four of five against the Wings to reach the second round.

"The confidence coming home is strong," Tippett said. "We didn't get the win we wanted up there, but we're going to come home to a full building and lot of excitement. I expect us to play well."

As if the on-ice challenge wasn't daunting enough, the club is once again dealing with the off-ice distraction of the team's future. There's been a fresh batch of reports over the past week suggesting a relocation to Winnipeg is all but assured.

Sources told ESPN.com over the weekend that nothing is decided either way at this point, and the league will continue with 11th-hour efforts to try and salvage the situation in Phoenix, whether that includes prospective owner Matthew Hulsizer or other possible options. But the clock is ticking more than ever. And Winnipeg is ready and willing.

The Coyotes players have done a terrific job over the past two years of shelving the off-ice drama and focusing on the task at hand. But the latest is hard to ignore. It's mid-April and still no resolution.

"It's on everybody's mind, you're not going to lie about that," Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata told ESPN.com on Sunday. "On the other hand, there's nothing we can do about it. Especially right now we're in the playoffs, we're more focused on trying to stop Datsyuk or how to score on Howard."

Tippett shrugged Sunday when asked how much the latest relocation rumors were affecting his team.

"It's become part of the ongoing dilemma around our team … after a while you don't even listen to it much anymore," Tippett said. "I found very interesting that four hours before Game 1 there's a thing [report] that we're going to Winnipeg. That's just my own intuition. You're trying to keep the team prepared, and you've got that stuff coming out. It is what it is, we deal with it and you move on."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.