Something appears to be clicking for the Arizona Coyotes.
Since losing four straight in mid-January, the Coyotes (17-28-6, 40 points, 7th in Pacific Division) have won four of their last six games. They most recently downed the first-place San Jose Sharks in a shootout, just two nights after nearly upsetting the Blackhawks despite being down 4-1 in the second period.
“It’s probably the best we’ve played all year,” head coach Dave Tippett told Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “We’ve got good balance in our lineup, good balance between grit and skill.”
Part of that grit comes from physical depth players like Ryan White (as told by Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan), and as Tippett mentioned Wednesday, the team’s skill was bolstered by the return of Max Domi.
Domi, who played for the first time last Thursday since injuring his hand in a fight in December, was a central part of the Coyotes’ offense in his rookie campaign last season. And in 26 games before his injury this year, the 21-year-old netted five goals with 11 assists.
“Max is a smart guy,” Tippett said. “He was challenged the other night and didn’t fight, and that probably says a lot. We actually got a goal out of that. Him and (Sharks forward Logan) Couture were yapping back and forth, and in the meantime, Doan took the puck and went down the ice and scored. That’s another good lesson for Max — don’t fight, because you might take a goal away.”
But Domi’s two games since his return can’t possibly be a complete explanation for the Coyotes’ longer stretch of recent improvement. After all, in the aforementioned six-game stretch, the Coyotes have converted on 21 percent of power plays (season average: 15.58 percent) and have outscored their opponents 19-14.
“Probably the biggest difference is some of our young players are starting to turn the corner,” Tippett said. “They’re still young players, but they’re getting much more comfortable in the league and being able to contribute more. We were hoping for a better fate in that one, but I liked the way we finished and we carried into the next game.”
Having shown a new level of competitiveness in their games against Chicago and San Jose, the Coyotes are now faced with a contest Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens (30-17-8, 1st place in Atlantic Division) and on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins (33-13-6, 3rd place in Metropolitan Divsion).
Tippett was asked if his team had renewed spirits entering this challenging two-game homestand.
“I think there is. Like I said, you start to play well and think you deserve to win.”