It's almost April and we've got our first matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes coming up tonight as the Wings head into their home-away-from-home at the Jobing.com Arena to take on Bettman's team. Today, we've got Carl Putnam on the hook to introduce us to SB Nation's Coyotes site Five for Howling. Yes, the Coyotes have fans. Yes, there may not be as many there as other teams have. The people who do like the Coyotes are very passionate about their team.
1. The Coyotes are struggling this season after going to the Western Conference Finals last season. What's the biggest change for the team since then?
Their defensive play and goaltending haven't been as good as last season. I blame the defensive play on the goaltending issues as well. It's been across the board which is what has made it so maddening. If it was just an issue with one or two players it's an easy solution, but the defensive lapses have been across the board, forwards and blueliners, top line guys and grinders. Mike Smith hasn't been standing on his head, but frankly I don't know many goalies who can stop shots from the middle slot and shots tipped in from all sorts of places. In addition, injuries, especially those to top line players Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal, and the loss of Ray Whitney have hurt the squad as well. Finally, lately they've gotten zero puck luck. They have outplayed and out shot their opponents in 3 out of their last 4 games and gotten little reward.
2, Since this is the first time these two teams will meet this season (wait..really? Daaamn), what are your thoughts on the realignment plan? Losing Dallas while picking up the Canadian part of the Northwest seems like it could impact the Yotes fairly heavily for travel.
Actually I think it's an excellent deal for the Coyotes. Under Dave Tippett they've excelled against the Western Canadian squads, plus time zone wise it makes more sense for everyone involved. I'm sure it may a bit more travel mileage for the Coyotes, but whatever it is will be minimal and having Vancouver and the two Alberta squads in town more often will help the club revenue wise. As someone who has missed divisional playoffs ever since they were abandoned, I'm happy to see some version of them back, however I'd prefer a cleaner system. Maybe we'll get one down the road when the league expands to 32 teams.
3. Seriously, how underrated is Oliver Ekman-Larsson? Man, that kid is good.
The kid is special. Jaime Eisner from our site actually wrote a piece on OEL yesterday. To be in the top defensive pairing at such a young age and to be playing well at the same time is an impressive feat. The amount of growth he's shown from his first season in North America until know is amazing. We all knew he'd be special, but I'm not sure everyone thought he'd be this good this quick. What I love most about him is he's no Paul Coffey type D-man. He's a two way guy who they can play in any situation. I know a number of NHL fans who don't really like the Coyotes, but admit they'll turn on a Coyotes game just to watch OEL. I think he may have been underrated last season, but he's been in the Norris conversation for weeks, so he's not flying under the radar anymore.