by PuckStopsHere on 03/01/12 at 12:10 AM ET
The Phoenix Coyotes are the hottest team in the NHL. They have gathered points in every game in the month of February. They have posted an 11-1 record and their loss was a regulation tie, as they lost in a shootout to Vancouver. This month moved the Coyotes into first place in the Pacific Division.
Although the Coyotes are playing well, their record is partly due to the NHL’s point scheme. In their twelve games in February, the Coyotes only won six games in regulation. In the pre-overtime days, this would have left the Coyotes with a 6-0-6 record. That is .750 hockey. That is good hockey, but it is not nearly as good as the .958 winning percentage they have in the NHL’s actual point scheme.
I think the biggest reason for Phoenix’s success has been the goaltending of Mike Smith. He was a great free agent signing. He is posting a .927 saves percentage and a 2.24 GAA. Many people expected Phoenix would struggle with poor goaltending this year, but the opposite has happened. It has been a strength of the team.
Offensively Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata have led the way. They too are surprises along with Smith. I think few expected them to do as well this season as they have. Defensively Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have been the top players. That is the only position where the Coyotes success has not been a surprise. They were expected to do about as well as they have.
I am not convinced Phoenix is as good as their record shows. I part their record looks better than it should be because of the way overtime is treated in the NHL point scheme. They should be a playoff team and if they hold onto their division lead, they will have home ice advantage in the first round. They will be a weaker top seed and hence be likely to be “upset”. Right now, they would be matched up against either San Jose or Chicago. Either of those teams would likely be able to beat Phoenix. The Coyotes are a pretty solid team, but they are playing above their expected level. Likely that will not last.
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