They're very structured, they're very disciplined and as the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference -- and entering Tuesday night with a 2-1 lead in their conference quarterfinal series -- they've been very good.
When your roster isn't loaded with All-Star snipers and true goal-scoring threats, you have to find different ways to create chances and put points on the board. One such way: aggressive defensemen that aren't afraid to jump into the play. And no team has been better at it, or relied it on more, this season than the Coyotes.
Phoenix received 40 goals from its rearguards during the season, including 12 from Keith Yandle, 10 from Ed Jovanovski, eight from Adrian Aucoin, four from Jim Vandermeer, three from Zbynek Michalek and one each from Sami Lepisto, Derek Morris and David Schlemko. Aucoin, for what it's worth, was also one of Phoenix's best players in the shootout, scoring on six of his nine attempts. The only defensive unit in the league that scored more goals was Vancouver (42), while no team had a higher percentage of its goals come from the blue line (19 percent, Chicago and Florida were the only teams that topped even 17 percent). It's continued in the postseason, as four of their 11 goals in the first three games against the Red Wings have come from the defense, including Lepisto's tally 29 seconds into the first period of Sunday's 4-2 win in Detroit.
Whenever possible would be the key phrase. If you look at where the Coyotes defensemen have scored from this season, they are a threat from anywhere in the offensive zone. From the blue line, in the slot, below the faceoff dots, on the rush, at even strength, on the power play ... everywhere and anywhere.
Here's a quick look at where the the Phoenix defensemen have scored goals from this season (playoffs included).
For a comparison, here's what the Coyotes defense looked like a season ago -- with very similar personnel -- under then head coach Wayne Gretzky. They not only scored fewer goals (30), they didn't appear to be anywhere near as aggressive, as almost all of their goals came from beyond the circles.
If you're going to rely on your defensemen to provide that much of an offensive spark and jump into plays as often as the Coyotes do, you need to not only have defensemen that have confidence in their forwards' ability to back them up and play defense, but also forwards that are actually good at it. And the Coyotes definitely have the forwards to play such an aggressive style, as Martin Hanzal, Daniel Winnik and Vernon Fiddler have been among the top defensive forwards in the NHL this season.
"You definitely have to have faith in your forwards," said Yandle. "This late in the season you almost know that guys are going to be back to help and be in position. If you do get caught up, or if you fall, or if you get hit, guys have to be there in your position, and for us, they always are."
"We just have to keep going out there and playing as structured as possible," he added.
After exceeding almost all expectations this year and qualifying for the playoffs, the Coyotes were right back to being counted out in the opening round, drawing a matchup with the back-to-back Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings, a team playing its best hockey entering the postseason. So far, Phoenix has more than held its own, while the few youngsters on the team, like Yandle, have seemingly adjusted to the faster and more aggressive playoff-style hockey.
"It is a little faster," said Yandle. "But I think the biggest thing is guys finish every check. Nobody lets up anytime you get the puck. You make a play and you're always going to get hit. Guys don't give up an opportunity to hit you and they'll run through you every time. I think that's the biggest thing. Maybe in the regular season you get hit one out of every five times, but in the playoffs you're getting hit every time you touch the puck."