The Phoenix Coyotes may be short on money, but the team is definitely not short on talent. The Coyotes ran into some goaltending challenges last year that prevented the team from finding any real success. Goalie Mike Smith had a horrible year and he was probably glad that it was a short season. But Smith came out in game one of the 2013-14 season and showed that he was ready to establish himself as a strong NHL goalie again. The Coyotes looked like a Cup contender two seasons ago, but fell off the map last season. If Phoenix is going to climb back into a place of prominence in the Western Conference, then there are some keys to success that it will need to follow.
2014 Stanley Cup Odds: 66/1
Key #1: Score goals.
Goaltender Mike Smith had his own problems last season, but the Coyotes’ forwards also had problems with scoring goals. In the Western Conference, there are two main types of teams. There are either the free-wheeling goal-scoring teams like the Blackhawks, or the defensive-minded teams like the Los Angeles Kings. But the Coyotes need to realize that their defense is not strong enough to rely on as a way to win games, especially in the playoffs. The solution is for the forwards and defensemen to start putting the puck into the net a lot more often. A 4-1 win to open the season is a good start, but Phoenix needs to keep up the pressure if it is going to win a lot of games.
Key #2: Fix the power play.
Last season, the Coyotes were tied for 22nd in the league with a power play percentage of 14.8 percent. The season before that, the Coyotes were second from the bottom of the league in power play efficiency. An efficient power play helps teams to win regular season games, but it is critical in the playoffs. The reason that the Coyotes cannot seem to get to the Stanley Cup finals, despite having a competitive team, is their inability to cash in on the power play. This is something that the team needs to work on and fix if it is going to make a realistic run at the Cup this season.
Key #3: Cut down on the shots against.
While it is easy to point fingers at goalie Mike Smith for Phoenix’s defensive struggles last year, it is not all his fault. The Coyotes were tenth in the league for shots allowed as they averaged almost 31 shots against per game. Phoenix spends a lot of time in its own end of the rink in any given game and that simply has to be fixed if the Coyotes are going to be competitive this season. There is only so much Mike Smith can do when he is facing so many shots on any given night.