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Coyotes are winning and could get better

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Spector

At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector's NHL Blog on Yardbarker.com for NHL rumors and analysis.

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The Phoenix Coyotes continue to make headlines over the uncertainty of their ownership, poor attendance and their future in the Phoenix market. Lost in this coverage is the Coyotes' strong start this season, with a 9-4-0 record in October, including a 7-3-0 run in their last 10 games. One could forgive the reluctance of their dwindling fan base to support the Coyotes -- their 3-2 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday drew only 6,495 fans -- given the possibility the franchise's days in the desert may be numbered and the years of losing seasons. Still, there are encouraging signs this season might be different, that the Coyotes' long-awaited improvement might finally be at hand. It starts with general manager Don Maloney, who at the trade deadline acquired Scottie Upshall, Matt Lombardi and Petr Prucha late last season and during the offseason brought in veterans Adrian Aucoin, Robert Lang, Jim Vandermeer, Radim Vrbata and Jason LaBarbera to add experienced depth to his lineup. Maloney next hired former Dallas Stars head coach Dave Tippett as the Coyotes' new bench boss, providing his club with the experienced coaching they'd lacked in recent years. Tippett has the Coyotes playing a more responsible defensive system and as a result they gave up the fourth-fewest shots of all NHL teams in October. Their special teams have shown improvement, ranking 10th overall in power-play goals and 14th in penalty killing. Goaltending also played a significant role in the Coyotes start. Ilya Bryzgalov was outstanding in October, leading the league in goals-against average (a miniscule 1.78) and shutouts (3). He's also third overall in save percentage (.930) and wins (8). Bryzgalov also has a solid backup in Jason LaBarbera, who has a 1.59 goals-against and .950 save percentage in the three games he's appeared in this season. Other Coyotes also had strong performances in the season's opening month. Puck-moving defenseman Ed Jovanovski was tied with team captain Shane Doan for the club's scoring lead, his 10 points in 13 games ranking him ninth amongst NHL defensemen in points.
Third-year forward Daniel Winnick is playing with more confidence, which he credited in a recent interview with the Arizona Republic to Tippett's coaching. After 13 games Winnick has already matched his points total from last season (7). Despite the strong start the Coyotes still have room for improvement. They were the ninth-lowest scoring team in October despite being 14th overall in shots on goal, indicating they're not sufficiently capitalizing on their scoring opportunities. Promising forward Peter Mueller was expected to have a breakout performance this season but thus far has only two points in 12 games. Fellow forwards Prucha and Martin Hanzal also have low numbers to start the season. All of this however pales with the real need for improvement in attendance. The NHL took control of the Coyotes in hope to attract buyers willing to keep the franchise in Phoenix, but that could be a tough sell given the woeful fan support. It's easy to claim that Phoenix isn't a hockey town and isn't willing to support an NHL franchise. That, however, overlooks the fact that in the early years following their relocation from Winnipeg, the Coyotes did OK at the gate. That's because the Coyotes, in five of their first six seasons in Phoenix, were playoff contenders, with recognizable stars like Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and Nikolai Khabibulin in the lineup. Since those days the Coyotes have been a poorly run team with no marketable stars and which last made the playoffs in 2002. Little wonder Phoenix sports fans have shown little interest in them and their strong performance in October. One good month does not make the Coyotes a playoff team but it does offer perhaps a glimmer of hope that perhaps this long-suffering team might be finally heading in the right direction.
Tagged: Oilers, Stars, Blues, Coyotes, Ducks, Adrian Aucoin, Jeremy Roenick, Robert Lang, Keith Tkachuk, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ed Jovanovski, Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Jim Vandermeer, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jason LaBarbera, Scottie Upshall, Petr Prucha, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal

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