Momentum feels real for on-the-rise Coyotes

Momentum is a term of convenience. When things are rolling a team’s way, every player, coach and manager swears it’s real, but when the losing starts, momentum is just a tool for reporters and fans, a spell easily broken in the next game.

Maybe that’s as it should be. Confidence is a mandatory commodity for pro athletes every time they compete. Why introduce a negative vibe? On the flip side, belief in something as esoteric as momentum can be a powerful intoxicant.

It has the Coyotes positively buzzed as the 2012-13 season begins Saturday in Dallas. Despite the fact that they haven’t played a game since Dustin Brown took out Michal Rozsival with what we’ll call a knee-jerk reaction, the Coyotes believe they are trending upward. Despite a soul-sucking, 113-day lockout, an ongoing ownership saga, a bottom-end payroll and the loss of leading scorer Ray Whitney, the Coyotes see nothing but wine and roses.

They see momentum.

“You can feed off of it,” defenseman Keith Yandle said. “It’s all a mental thing. I think we’re a deeper team this year. We have more guys up front that can score, I think our D-corps is just as strong if not stronger than last year, and we’ve still got Smitty (goalie Mike Smith).”

There is much to like about this Coyotes squad as it begins its first follow-up to postseason success.

It has a loyal captain who just may be the best leader in the game. It has a stats-crunching coach who abides no passengers. It has a general manager who won’t stop tweaking until he achieves perfection. It has a goaltender out to prove that 2011-2012 was just the beginning. It has a deep (yes, we’re serious) group of centers and a defensive corps perfectly tailored to the team’s style.

“I just feel better about our team,” GM Don Maloney said. “I really like where we’re at.”    

There are, of course, some issues still to be ironed out. Greg Jamison still needs to buy this team and hand Maloney something more than food stamps. The power play still needs an extreme makeover, and there are questions about the offense and the ongoing development of young stars Mikkel Boedker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

There is also the legitimate concern that, following the lockout, fan support will lag in a market than can afford no lag. The Coyotes will do all they can to counter that off the ice in their community and marketing appearances, but the simplest way to make momentum a reality is to keep winning, to establish the kind of habit that draws in fickle Phoenix.

“I think the lockout hurt everybody in the sense that there wasn’t anybody it didn’t affect,” Doan said. “The fans are upset, and rightfully so, but we’ve got to try and get that momentum back as an organization.”

Fate may have provided an opening. The Suns are eyeballing a high lottery pick, the Cards are reshuffling their deck and the Diamondbacks are shopping one of their best drawing cards.

Meanwhile, at Jobing.com Arena, the reigning Pacific Division champs are planning to hoist a friendly reminder of which team is the best in town.

“Raising a banner,” Doan said. “Hopefully that helps.”

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