Here’s what we know about the Phoenix Coyotes more than one-quarter of the way into the NHL season:
• There’s an old-school disciplinarian hiding beneath Wayne Gretzky’s soft voice and silk suits.
Gretzky cut Brett Hull’s ice time, benched Mike Ricci, traded Jeff Taffe, who only happens to be his niece’s fiancé, called out Mike Comrie publicly and put Phoenix through a torturous 45-minute workout without a puck after back-to-back losses on Oct. 29 and 30.
He’s put winning first, relationships second, and, let’s be honest, some of us weren’t sure that would be the case.
• Curtis Joseph has regained the form that made him one of the NHL’s top goalies in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Whether Joseph, 38, can keep this up all season — before Tuesday’s games he was tied for fifth in save percentage (.927) and tied for seventh in goals-against average (2.27) — who knows. But so far, he’s a Vezina Trophy candidate.
• Phoenix is in a win-now mode. General manager Mike Barnett already has made a league-high three trades, and in two of the three deals he’s dumped young talent in Taffe and David Tanabe. It’s a risky gambit, but since Phoenix has never won later, why not try to win now?
Here’s what we don’t know about the Coyotes: Whether they’re any good. Every time Phoenix appears to find its footing, it loses an edge. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks came to town Tuesday having lost eight consecutive games.
Phoenix had won two straight, was 6-2-1 this month and over .500 for the first time this season. So what happens? Anaheim dominates the first 10 minutes and holds on for a 2-1 victory before an announced crowd of 13,665 at Glendale Arena that looked more like 8,000 or so.
(Apparently, the attendance count includes everyone’s inner being).
"It just seems to be a pattern our team has," Gretzky said. "We play two good games and we’re not ready to play. That’s not called for."
This is supposed to be the new NHL, but that sure looked like the same, old punchless Coyotes team on the ice.
Their only goal came with one second left in the first period after a terrible turnover by Anaheim’s Sandis Ozolinsh, and they failed to score on seven power-play attempts.
It was ugly, ugly hockey, and captain Shane Doan was so frustrated he suckerpunched Anaheim’s Vitaly Vishnevski after the thirdperiod horn sounded.
It was about the only offense Doan got in all night.
There have been two constants with these Coyotes through the first 24 games of the season.
They’ve gotten great goaltending from Joseph, but the net on the other side of the ice is allergic to whatever they throw at it.
After Monday’s games, the Coyotes had given up the fourth-fewest goals in the Western Conference yet were ninth in points.
That Phoenix is 2-6 in games in which it’s allowed three goals tells you all you need to know about the lack of firepower on the roster.
"We’ve used our goalies as a crutch," Ricci said.
Joseph and rookie David LeNeveu have held up well under the pressure. But they’re going to hit a rough patch — every goalie does — and the Coyotes aren’t a team that can win a lot of 5-4 games. "We definitely haven’t been getting the offense from some guys we expected, including myself," said Doan, who has just five goals. Well, whoever those guys are had better start producing because teams aren’t dumping 40-goal scorers.
The Coyotes are a tidy 11-11-2 in the standings this morning. The record appropriately reflects what they’ve been to this point. And what they’ll have to prove they aren’t. A mediocre hockey team.