Arizona Coyotes shine as best professional sports team in the state in October

The Buzz on Sports (Editorial)
By: 
DARRELL JACKSON

Darrell Jackson

Arizona, with apologies to the Phoenix Rising FC who just advanced to the United Soccer League Western Conference Finals for the first time, say hello to the best professional sports team in the state – the Arizona Coyotes.

That’s right, I said the best professional team playing in the state right now are my Coyotes.

I’ll wait till you all recover from those words from me, since most of you know I have been one of the most critical writers about this team and organization.

The Arizona Cardinals, even after defeating San Francisco for the second time this season, are 2-6 and in third place in the National Football Conference Western Division.

Phoenix Suns, also a young team with great potential, have started the season 1-5 and are in last place in the Western Conference.

The Diamondbacks had a winning season, finishing 82-80, but still finished eight-and-a-half games from even making the playoffs.

So what do Arizona sports fans have to look forward to when it comes to the post season?

How does this sound, Arizona Coyotes may be this states professional playoff team in 2018-19.

The 2018-19 Coyotes are finally showing on the ice that the front office knew what they have been doing all along as this team is exciting and fun to watch.

After six seasons out of the playoffs, the Coyotes are finally stepping up to their expectations and playing like we all hoped they would the past few season.

Since advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2012, the Coyotes struggled on the ice missing the playoffs since, missing the playoffs in six straight season and never even being with scent of the playoffs.

Since taking over as General Manager of the team in May 2016, John Chyka has made some moves that have been questioned with eyes towards the future.

That future is finally arriving as this team has a ton of talent that is starting to mature.

After sitting at Gila River Arena Oct. 27 as the team cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, I noticed a few things that everyone has been waiting for the past couple of years here in Glendale.

Excitement, hope and talent that has been potential for years and now there are some amazing things that need to be pointed out after their dominating victory over Tampa Bay is leading to great enthusiasm among Coyotes fans.

The penalty kill is the best in the Western Conference and second only to Tampa Bay in the NHL. They are tied with New Jersey as one of two teams that have allowed only 20 goals, tied for best in the NHL (as of Oct. 29).

Hoping to do better than last season when the team started 1-11-1 in October, this season they have opened the season with five wins in their first ten games and are eyeing a playoff run.

"I don't want us to be overconfident,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said after the Oct. 27 game. “We've climbed back in it. We had a tough start. I like that we're digging deep but this is a fickle league. I believe in karma so we've got to stick with it."

Goaltender Antti Raanta, who was acquired in a trade with New York Rangers, even though he had never won more than 16 games before the trade, was one of the shining spots in 2017-18 and is continuing that dominance early this season.

Raanta has a goals against average of 2.13, which ranks eighth among goalies that have started five games along with a save percentage of .921 which ranks 12th with a minimum of four starts.

Raanta and backup Darcy Kuemper have both played well, combining to stop 262 of 281 of the shots they have faced for a combined save percentage of  .932 on the young season.

"They are both giving us a chance to win every night," Tocchet said. "That's the key for us along with our defense being strong."

The team has returned essentially the entire defensive players from last season and have clearly fully began listening to Tocchet’s philosophy of "play more offense, play less defense."

As such, this team is succeeding in their goal to transition the puck out of the defensive zone and quickly shift into their offense. They are showing great success in the face-off circles - winning 51.0 percent of the draws in the defensive zone and 54.3 percent in the neutral zone – showing incredible success in the past five games.

Offensively, the team ranks seventh in shots per game (34.0) and, after being shut out in three of their first four games, the puck has begun hitting the back of the net.

In their past five games, they have scored 22 goals and won four of those games.

Twenty year old Clayton Keller, who finished third in rookie of the year voting last season after scoring 23 goals and 42 assists for the Coyotes, is already one of the most exciting players in the league.

I have seen some of the greatest players in hockey history on the ice and I will say this, Keller is one of the fastest skaters I have seen and he will be one of the top players in the league very soon – if he isn’t already.

Off-season trades brought in center Vinnie Hiostroza from Chicago, who is second on the team in scoring, and Alex Galchenyuk from Montreal has improved the offense early this year.

Tocchet knows his team is finally playing up to their potential, but also is quick to temper the excitement on a young season.

"I don't want us to be overconfident, I mean we're .500," Tocchet said. "We are 5-5, we climbed back in it, and we’ve won two games at home after a tough start. I like that we're digging deep, but this is a fickle league. I believe in karma so we've got to stick with it."

As this team continues to improve, Coyotes fans can have high hopes as this team has a strong chance to advance to the playoffs in the wide open Western Conference for the first time in six years.

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