6:20 a.m. Desert moon over 101. "Statesboro Blues" on the radio headed to Sky Harbor Airport. Til next time, Phoenix.
We likely won't know until about 6 p.m. ET whether Henrik Lundqvist or Chad Johnson will start tonight against the Avalanche.
Not sure whether my early story from yesterday afternoon, before the Rangers' 3-2 loss, was ever posted. So here 'tis....
GLENDALE, AZ----Since October, 2006, the last time the Rangers were here, the desert has blossomed. In some nearby towns where suburbia has sprawled, no longer can an early-morning jogger run past coyotes silently peering from rocks in the distance and javelinas moving slowly in small packs.
And the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes have gained some ground as well. Under new bench boss Dave Tippett, the former Dallas Stars head coach who replaced the iconic Wayne Gretzky last Sept. 24, the Coyotes had climbed to fourth place in the Western Conference at 31-18-5, one point behind third-place Vancouver, prior to last night’s game against the stumbling Rangers.
Tippett, 47, the former NHL forward who was on Team Canada’s silver-medal team in the 1992 Winter Olympics, has infused this young team with a system based on skating and hard work for sixty minutes, a system that has sown some confidence in a club that was mired in bankruptcy proceedings for months.
For a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2002 and that has as its captain Shane Doan, the last remaining member of the Winnipeg Jets, who relocated here in 1996, the change is surprising.
Doan, 33, who scored in overtime to complete a remarkable 5-4 comeback in Detroit last Tuesday, had two goals and three assists in the last two games coming into last night’s match at jobing.com arena.
In the long run, it has been the play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and Doan, who have helped guide an array of young talent compiled by former Rangers assistant general manager Don Maloney, including draftees Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, Kevin Porter and Keith Yandle, as well as former Rangers Petr Prucha and Lauri Korpikoski.
But do not discount the impact of Tippett, who sloshed through the controversy generated by Sean Avery and his teammates in Dallas and was subsequently fired, unfairly some say.
Avery, in the first season of a four-year, $15.5 million contract, didn’t fit with some of the veterans on the Stars, and the situation imploded in December 2008, when Avery made inappropriate remarks about Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf’s girlfriend to the media.
The Grate One was suspended by the league and the Stars banished him as well.
"From a coach's standpoint, I try to build a team that has an atmosphere where players care about each other and play with each other and play with continuity, and I find it hard to believe that Sean could come back in that dressing room and we could find that continuity again," Tippett said at the time.
It wasn’t until Rangers president and GM Glen Sather brokered a deal to claim Avery on waivers from the minors that the left wing returned to the Blueshirts, who prior to last night, had had lost four straight, scoring a total of three goals, and were 1-3-1 on the road in January.
The Coyotes under Tippett, meanwhile, were 4-1-0 in their past five home games, including a 3-2 shootout win on Thursday here, with Korpikoski, who has traded from the Rangers for Enver Lisin last summer, netting the game-deciding goal.
If the Coyotes make the playoffs, many NHL observers believe that Tippett will be a leading candidate for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.
And why not? He gets it, and the players have bought in. After Daniel Winnik was cut by a high stick as he scored with 8:08 remaining to help the Coyotes beat the Devils 4-3 on Jan. 15, Tippett said. “He paid the price to win. That's not a bad thing. I'd take a bleeding nose for a win, wouldn't you?''