Coyotes beginning to look worthy of backing

Mar 25, 2014 3:03 AM

By the time I get to Phoenix they may be rising.

The rising Phoenix that are the Coyotes is an NHL club that I rarely place a wager on, either for or against, except for some technical plays.

Since the Sonoran Desert is a non-traditional market – go figure! – it’s hard to get reliable information in a city where only the Snowbirds know the sport – not the local sportswriters.

Phoenix is currently situated with several other .500 teams competing for the final Western Conference wild card berth, so all it takes is a couple of road wins to vault in the standings. This occurred on Mar. 10-11 with a sweep of contests in the state of Florida, ending a horrific 2-12 ATS away from Glendale’s dot-com Arena.

It’s also difficult to receive value on a team that often loses on the road, but a recent wake-up call – along with the disintegration of Dallas – may make the Coyotes attractive to back with a few dollars down the stretch.

Phoenix’s victory in Los Angeles last week, made it seven wins in 10 starts (despite blowing a third-period lead to Boston), skating past the Stars to cling onto the eighth and final playoff berth in the West.

Even though Dallas travels to Glendale for the teams’ final regular-season contest, this race should long be determined in favor of the Coyotes.

Despite the meltdown to the Bruins, Phoenix has been solid on defense of late due to several factors.

The goaltending of Mike Smith, a former Dallas draft pick, has been more consistent. Following a 9-2-2 start, he was slowed by a series of bumps. But the Olympic break did him well, with Smith posting a stellar .940 save percentage in February and March.

It’s also reflective on the Totals – Phoenix has 13 UNDERS in their last 19 contests after opening the season 18-8-1 to the OVER.

Throw in Smith’s 11-4-4 record against Pacific Division foes and it makes one wonder why the Coyotes are not higher in the standings. Such a record would warrant Phoenix as a great series bet for the first round of the playoffs.

Remember, the wild card teams are seeded Nos. 7 and 8 in the conference (not No. 4 in the division), so they would open against St. Louis (not San Jose or Anaheim).

Similar to so many teams in the West, defense is the first priority. Still, it’s a bit surprising to note defenseman Keith Randle leads the Coyotes in scoring with 50 points, three better than right winger Radim Vrbata.

Randle ranks third in the NHL in shots by a defenseman, behind only Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson.

Plus, while Dallas players are going down nightly, Phoenix lists virtually no one of note on the injury list, with the recent return of center Martin Hanzal and winger Martin Erat, with the two joining Vrbata on an all-Czech line. Hanzal already owns a career high in points despite missing a dozen games.

Indeed, this club is rested, healthy and ready to pose problems for the unfortunate division winner that will meet them.

You need to give considerable credit to general manager Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett (the bench boss after Wayne Gretzky resigned) for keeping this team afloat after the league took over the bankrupt franchise.

Now with new owners and a pending relocation to Seattle (or Kansas City, Quebec City or elsewhere) on the back burner, everything is slowly pointing upward for the Coyotes – even if no one else in the league knows it.

Contact Nick at [email protected].

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