Updated Nov. 30
Not very long ago, it was unclear where the Coyotes would be after the first two months of the season.
|Ilya Bryzgalov often earns the spotlight with his play in Phoenix. (US Presswire)|
Phoenix came into this new season having gone the past six without sniffing the playoffs, and the boardroom drama resulted in Wayne Gretzky being officially pushed out as coach only a week before the season. So even with a lineup that deemphasized last year's youth movement by inserting more serviceable veterans, things really didn't bode well for the Coyotes as opening night approached.
No doubt when former Dallas coach Dave Tippett took over he needed to see the backs of jerseys instead of faces to identify his players at the outset. But Tippett got them on the same page in a hurry, enough to have the Coyotes head into December in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and as one of the league's surprise teams.
Maybe even the biggest. The Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings had equal claim to the surprise title for a while, but the Avs have faded precipitously in recent weeks while the Kings are slipping and look very lost without Ryan Smyth in the lineup. Phoenix, meanwhile, certainly isn't wowing anyone, but the Coyotes are making the most of their talents with strong defense, sharp goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov and the leadership of captain Shane Doan.
Before anyone gets too excited, remember the future in the desert is still up in the air and Phoenix won consecutive games only once in November, needing an overtime win Sunday in Anaheim to do even that. But with only five teams in the league having more wins, that has been enough to keep the Coyotes in the playoff race.
"We think we have room to improve and that we can be better than we have been, but at the same time we're in the hunt," Doan said. "We know we've got a good run in us so we just have to keep going until we get it."
This week's rankings through Sunday night's games: