GLENDALE, Ariz. – Dave Tippett is a defensive-minded coach but he doesn’t limit players on the back end to focusing simply on one end of the ice.
In fact he demands offence from his defencemen. Their production has been an important part of the Coyotes’ surprising turnaround season, and it carried Phoenix in its first-round Game 1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. Game 2 is Friday.
Derek Morris and Keith Yandle accounted for two of the Coyotes’ three goals and three of their five assists.
To have further success in the post-season, Tippett said, it is imperative his defencemen continue to put the puck in the net.
“They have to be part of our scoring committee,” he said.
“All our defence has an accountability to play defence, and they have an accountability to play offence. We need that push on the offensive side of the game. We expect them to be involved in just about every rush. Fortunately this year we’ve capitalized on a lot of those chances.”
Phoenix’s defencemen scored 40 of the team’s 211 goals and led the NHL most of the season before being passed by Vancouver (42) in the final week.
With the Coyotes playing a defensive-centred system and with no go-to scorer, goals are a premium for this team.
“We need that third and fourth wave,” Morris said. “We don’t have anybody that’s going to go out there and score us a whole bunch of goals. We’ve got a group of guys here that find a way to win. When everybody contributes and when the ‘D’ can chip in here and there obviously that helps out.”
The Coyotes allowed 196 goals this season, the fewest in the Western Conference but only 15 fewer than they scored, resulting in tightly contested games most nights. Phoenix played 42 games that were decided by one goal and prevailed in 29. The players believe that has prepared them well for the playoffs in which games are often decided by one or two plays, as was the case in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory.
“All season we’ve been playing pretty tight games, that’s what we’ve prepared ourselves for,” Yandle said.
“We know how to react in those games,” Tippett said. “As the game went on I thought we got better as the game got tighter.”
To counter, the Red Wings know they have to get a better performance the rest of the series from their power play and penalty kill units. Detroit, which was ninth and 10th in the regular season in those categories, respectively, went 1-for-6 with a man advantage Wednesday.
“The plus is we’re getting (chances),” Todd Bertuzzi said. “It’s just a matter of bearing down on them.”
The Red Wings also killed only one of Phoenix’s four power plays, a stark contrast to the way they ended the season, killing 49 of the last 53 penalties they took.
“The PK kind of let us down,” Brad Stuart said. “(The Coyotes) won some face-offs, and they really put the puck on net. They had some good results, and we have to find a way to counteract them.”
Morris capped the power-play scoring with his game winner 2:19 into the third period, just the latest timely goal by a defenceman this season. In the Coyotes’ 36 victories that weren’t decided by shootout, defencemen scored the deciding goal 25 per cent of the time.
“It’s a lot to do with the forwards getting the puck to us and getting us opportunities to get shots on net,” Yandle said. “When ‘D’ score, it’s usually a good screen in front of the net and the goalie not seeing it.”
That was exactly the case with Yandle’s goal, which came with Shane Doan camped out in front of Jimmy Howard.
“We want (the defencemen) involved all the time, and we have some good players,” Tippett said. “It’s one thing to tell your ‘D’ to get up on the play, but the other thing is what they do when they get there. Our guys have done a great job.”