Coyotes fine with underdog role vs. Kings
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Keith Yandle sounded like “Old School” character Frank “The Tank” Ricard when recounting his Wednesday errands.
“I went to Best Buy, Home Depot and Fry’s Grocery Store,” Yandle said. “I was in each of them for probably a half hour to 45 minutes, and I didn’t get recognized once.”
That’s two-time NHL All-Star Keith Yandle. You know, the Coyotes’ assistant captain? The guy who’s tied for the postseason lead among defensemen with seven points? The guy with the dead giveaway playoff beard?
“It’s fine for me flying under the radar,” Yandle shrugged. “It’s nice to be able to do my thing.”
The same can be said of his Phoenix teammates. With a roster largely bereft of marquee names, the Coyotes have adopted a pack mentality that has them four wins away from playing for the oldest, biggest and most beautiful trophy in North American professional sports. If they get that far, maybe then the world’s sports fans will take notice, not that it will change how they go about their business.
“It’s really the reason why we are where we are,” forward Taylor Pyatt said. “Everyone’s coming together and playing well, different guys are stepping up all the time and contributing throughout the playoffs.
“It’s definitely more fun to be a part of something like that because you feel like every guy on the team plays a huge part in it.”
Here’s a prime example of Team Anonymity’s approach. Despite being one of just four teams that will still be playing next week, the Coyotes don’t have a single player among the NHL’s top 10 in postseason points and only one in the top 20. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who got knocked out in the first round, have three players among the top 20.
The Coyotes’ 29 playoff goals have come from 13 different players. Antoine Vermette leads with five. Four players have three, and the leading point producer (Ray Whitney) and goal scorer (Radim Vrbata) from the regular season rank fifth and 10th on the team this postseason.
Clearly, everything begins with goalie Mike Smith, who joins Shane Doan and Twitter rock star Paul Bissonnette as the most recognizable Coyotes. Smith’s .948 save percentage is second among postseason goalies with at least four games played and the 36.4 shots he faces each night lead all goalies by a wide margin.
“Smitty’s the biggest reason we’re here,” Doan said.
But he’s not the only reason. As goalie coach Sean Burke noted, you don’t win successive playoff rounds solely with hot goaltending. You win them when Derek Morris and Boyd Gordon are blocking countless shots. You win when your penalty-killing unit is successful 89.5 percent of the time. You win when your defensemen are jumping up into the offensive play and making good decisions with the puck. You win when your forwards are collapsing around the net to cut off passing and shooting lanes. You win when your wings win puck battles in the corners, and you win when you get balanced scoring from all four lines.
“Some teams have higher star power than other teams, but I haven’t seen a team yet that can win without everybody knowing their roles,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “If it’s a smart player and a player that really cares about winning, he’ll find that niche on his team where he can help the group win.”
No stars, no individual focus and no attention outside the confines of Jobing.com Arena. It’s a way of life for the Coyotes.
“And it hasn’t changed because we’re winning in the playoffs, if that’s your next question,” defenseman Rusty Klesla said. “Nobody’s looking at you, nobody cares what you’re wearing, how you talk, who you talk to and what you’re doing.
“You can live your life and I like it.”
With one growing exception.
“When you have a scruffy beard,” Pyatt said, “people start to give you a second look.”