When we writers cover a game, we don't just sit there and stare at the ice.
We talk. Generally about really unimportant topics (our weekend, personal lives, the latest video games), but sometimes we hit on a really good topic. We found a real gem on Saturday.
After Connor Murphy scored the first NHL goal of his career to give the Phoenix Coyotes a 4-1 lead over the then Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, fellow writer Jaime Eisner asked, "When do we start talking about the Coyotes as an offensive team?"
I sat there for a minute. I hadn't thought about Phoenix scoring goals in a long time. Head coach Dave Tippett's mantra has always been "defense wins championships," and the Coyotes have long had a reputation for being extremely stubborn in giving up goals. Heck, that's one of the main reasons they made a deep playoff run in the 2011-12 season.
And Phoenix certainly isn't known for dropping the big bucks on forwards. General Manager Don Maloney is an expert bargain hunter and prefers to bring in guys that fit into the team's system rather than those that bring pure star power. He then finds a good netminder and seems to spend from the goal line out. After all, the combined cap hits of Mike Smith ($5.67 million), Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($5.5 million) and Keith Yandle ($5.25 million) comprise more than 25 percent of Phoenix's total cap payroll.
So why are the Coyotes scoring so many more goals this season?
To me, it's several factors coming together at the right time. The addition of Mike Ribeiro (and his overall play) has let the Coyotes become a lot more flexible with their lines. A team in dire need of a center just three seasons ago now boasts Ribeiro, Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Jeff Halpern, Rob Klinkhammer and Kyle Chipchura on its current roster, not to mention young talents like Andy Miele and Max Domi in their system. Tippett can find plenty of mismatches using a variety of centers that make every line he puts out a legitimate scoring threat.
Another factor is the emergence of several key players. As mentioned, Ribeiro has fit into the system nicely after stumbling in his first few games. Hanzal is also finding his scoring touch, primarily because he's being much more physical in front of net and really learning to use his size to his advantage. The blue line, arguably one of the best two-way lines in the league, is growing more patient. It's getting to be a rare thing when a Coyotes defenseman tries to pull the trigger at a bad time and creates a turnover. They're waiting, seeing the lane and then shooting.
But the biggest part is a successful power play. The addition of assistant coach Newell Brown could not be more apparent, as he has the Coyotes no longer looking like a bunch of panicked chickens when an opponent is in the box. Since Brown came to town, Phoenix has scored 22.4 percent of the time with the man advantage. Just one season ago, that number was 14.8 percent. I did some math and figured out that the Coyotes should score more than 10 additional goals on the PP in 48 games this season than they did in 48 last season (The lockout makes all these stats so much fun to figure out).
Two defensemen in the league's top 10 for scoring.
Nine players with double-digit points.
Better than 22 percent on the power play.
Fourth in home goals, eighth in road.
Sixty-nine total goals this season.
So when do we start talking about the Coyotes as an offensive team?