The best possible script through the first half of the 2009-2010 National Hockey League season seems to have been written for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Earlier tonight, Phoenix bounced back from a gut-wrenching 3-2 shootout loss in San Jose with a huge 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Jobing.com Arena.
"The party's on, eh?" Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett chuckled with a smile. "That's the way it goes."
Most importantly, with the win, the Coyotes set a new franchise record by winning their 10th straight home game. It would surpass the previous mark of 9 in a row between December 27, 1992 to January 23, 1993 when the team was the Winnipeg Jets.
Lauri Korpikoski scored the deciding shootout goal and backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera made 28 saves to propel Phoenix to victory. LaBarbera kept the puck out of his net on all three Vancouver shootout attempts to improve his season record to 3-3 in 7 starts with a .924 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against-average. It was his first career home win in a Coyotes uniform after his previous two were both in Columbus earlier this season.
LaBarbera may not play much as was the case last season when he was with the Canucks, but he doesn't seem to mind with this group of Phoenix Coyotes.
"It's not easy, but to be honest, it's just fun to come to the rink," LaBarbera told Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic. "It's easy to come and be prepared and be focused. If you're losing, it's miserable coming to the rink, and it's easy to lose your focus."
He added, "We have such a great group here, such a close bunch. I like to come to the rink. We like to be around each other. It makes it much easier, doesn't matter if I'm playing or not."
Ed Jovanovski and Petr Prucha also scored for Phoenix, a team that has won 12 of their last 16 games overall since November 27th. Mikael Samuelsson and Kyle Wellwood tallied goals for visiting Vancouver.
There is no doubt under Tippett in his first season behind the bench, the team has bought into his coaching system and as a result, he appears to have a hard-working and fundamentally sound hockey club that is building more confidence from each game.
"I'm just proud of how hard the guys competed," Tippett said during the postgame press conference. "I mean you've got Vancouver on a winning streak, sitting here last night watching our game on TV. We played a hard, hard game in San Jose and we come back here and the guys muster up that kind of effort, it makes our whole coaching staff very proud."
video courtesy: Phoenix Coyotes
Note the word PROUD in that last quote. When you hear your bench boss say that, you know that not only are you getting your job done, but you're performing well at a high level where you believe you can win every single game you play.
That is something you rarely if ever heard from any head coach over the last several years during this playoff drought in the desert.
Following a tumultuous summer and autumn of uncertainty over the immediate future of the franchise, we observers can say that the Coyotes are undoubtedly off to an outstanding start to their season.
Fans across central Arizona and the hockey world are finally starting to take notice in the hockey team.
"It is so awesome. They have been through so much. And they are showing what a strong team they really are. I love our COYOTES!!!"
- Cathy Jean Turley
"They just keep shocking the doubters! And will continue to do so... playoffs baby... They're special alright, in very good way. These folks better wake up! This team's for real."
- Brian Hart
"The 'Yotes and their fans deserve this record breaking event. It's wonderful to get tangible reinforcement that all their hard work is paying off. We're so proud of them and so proud to be fans."
- Monique Reaux
"If I had to sum up how I feel about the record breaking feat last night at Jobing.com Arena, I would have to say that, as a Coyote fan since day one of this organization, there's no better feeling than to have the organization begin to write their own history and records so that the fans of the Jets who seem to have a deep-seeded loathing for the Desert Dogs can stop saying that 'we' have stolen 'their' history."
- Jim Appenauer
"After a 'perfect storm' of horrible problems over the summer, Coyotes fans finally have something wonderful to look forward to! We have an awesome home record this season, the crowds are getting better and the Coyotes organization is doing everything they can to bring the fans back to the arena.
It is great to honor the history of the Jets organization, but breaking the home winning streak is some new Coyotes history I am extremely proud to be a part of! The town is buzzing with talk of the Coyotes - in a GOOD way - for the first time in years!"
- Heather Schroeder
President of the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club
"This is a huge accomplishment for the Coyotes and their fans. The Valley is starting to wake up and take notice of our team. I feel this is just the beginning of an era of good things to come for the Phoenix Coyotes!"
- Heather McWhorter
President of the Save The Coyotes Coalition
It may be evident in the number of fans in the seats at the Coyotes' home rink in Glendale, Arizona, just 13 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix. Since 10,030 showed up last Wednesday night to see starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov blank the Anaheim Ducks for a 4-0 victory, the team hosted 16,131 patrons on Saturday night to see a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Tonight's game drew 13,976 fans into the building despite a noticeable contingent rooting for the Canucks.
"Please tell your friends," Coyotes television and radio host Todd Walsh said at the conclusion of last Saturday's pregame ceremony honoring team captain Shane Doan's 1,000th NHL game. "There is something happening out here. And to quote a certain coach in these parts, sorry Dave Tippett. As you said on opening night in Los Angeles, it's something special. These men have proven that thus far this season."
But the biggest question of all as the new calendar year being almost here would be, can Phoenix learn from last season's second half collapse and remain a consistent winning hockey team for the remainder of this campaign?
After he was stopped by LaBarbera in the shootout to end the game, Samuelsson expressed his belief that the Coyotes are a much more competitive team than years past.
"If you think you're coming to Phoenix for an easy two points, that's not the case now," he said.
"You see it time and again, especially since the lockout, you have these teams that people don't expect to play well," Coyotes defenseman Adrian Aucoin said four days ago. "You don't need superstars, you just need everyone to play really well. You don't need anybody to be great, but you need everybody to be good. So I don't think it's that surprising."
Now exactly halfway through the regular season schedule, the Coyotes are 25-16 with 53 points in 41 games. That includes three losses in either overtime or after a shootout. They're one of only eight teams that have reached the 50-point plateau and sit just two points behind the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks and overall league lead.
Now 10 straight home wins and counting, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney likes the team's chances of duplicating the first half success in the second half of the season.
"What pleases me is that we played so many tight games in the first half, so playing in 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 games is not going to faze us in the second half," Maloney said. "I think we're built for the long haul."
In an Arizona Republic poll, 96% of nearly 3,700 votes feel the Coyotes will make the playoffs. It certainly is remarkable how a few extra wins can suddenly boost the confidence of a team and the fans. Only time will tell if that comes true.
For complete highlights from this memorable game, check out the video clip below.
video courtesy: Canucks PPV/NHL Productions