Doan, Coyotes on improbable run to playoffs

March, 19, 2010

I bring you back to an August conversation I had with Shane Doan. The Phoenix Coyotes captain was insisting anyone picking his team to be brutal this season was making a big mistake.

"As bad as everything you hear about us, we just don't think we're that bad," Doan told me about six months ago. "We don't think we're the worst team in the league even though everybody seems to be picking us to finish last."

Fast forward to late Thursday night. Doan was about to board a plane in South Florida with the Coyotes a few hours after erasing a three-goal, third-period deficit to beat the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout. The victory set the Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise record for wins in a season with 44.

Just another day at the office for the team everyone wrote off before the season.

I mentioned our August conversation, and Doan laughed.

"I definitely do remember that," Doan told "Listen, I understood why people looked at all the negative things [ownership issues] and thought that. But I didn't understand, when you looked at our lineup, why people thought we were that bad."

I'm not sure "I told you so" even covers it for Doan, but a 44-22-5 record through 71 games is doing the talking for him. The Coyotes, the most surprising team in the NHL this season, have won a season-high seven straight games and suddenly find themselves only three points behind the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference lead shared by Chicago and San Jose.

I mean, seriously. Even Doan didn't see that coming.

"Well, I don't think anybody would have predicted that," Doan said with a chuckle. "I don't care who. I mean, not even our most ardent fans, not after eight years of the way we struggled along. But at the same time, we thought we were capable of being good."

Doan credited coach Dave Tippett, who didn't even start training camp with the club amid the off-ice, bankruptcy turmoil of last summer.

"Tipp coming in kind of compounded things. The more we started winning, the more we believed in him, and the more we believed in him, the more we won," Doan said. "It just keeps getting better and better."

There's no question in Doan's mind that his coach will win the Jack Adams Award.

"No," Doan said, laughing. "Is there any question in yours?"

Nope. Case closed, as far as I'm concerned.

Mind you, Phoenix's power play could use some work. The Coyotes are, amazingly, flirting with the conference lead despite having a power play that ranks last in the NHL.

"We've gone three games in a row where we've scored on it," Doan said. "So we're starting to figure it out, and that's huge for us. Tipp's always had great power plays, so I think we'll get it."

The Coyotes get away with a bad power play thanks to a great penalty-killing unit and a five-on-five goals for/against ratio that's among the best in the NHL. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, and the Coyotes play air-tight defense.

Off the ice, there are still problems. The sale from the league to the Ice Edge group hasn't closed, and it's not clear whether it will. In the stands, the Coyotes remain dead last in attendance, averaging 11,420 a game. But Saturday night's home contest against the Chicago Blackhawks is sold out. The market appears to be reacting to a winning team.

"If you look at our last home game before our trip, Vancouver on a Wednesday night, we had 16,000 fans that game," Doan said. "Same the game before that. Everyone is excited. People are enjoying this."

And so are the players.

"It's fun right now," Doan said. "We're having a good time and enjoying it and yet not looking past the next game. But we're definitely enjoying it."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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