Coyotes return from All-Star break in fine form

Shane Doan and the Arizona Coyotes are on track to return to the playoffs

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Coyotes return from All-Star break in fine form

Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan warms up before a game. Doan leads the Coyotes with 17 goals this season.

Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan warms up before a game. Doan leads the Coyotes with 17 goals this season.

Courtesy of Mike Zitek

Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan warms up before a game. Doan leads the Coyotes with 17 goals this season.

Courtesy of Mike Zitek

Courtesy of Mike Zitek

Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan warms up before a game. Doan leads the Coyotes with 17 goals this season.

Jeremy Beren, Editor-in-Chief, Scottsdale Chronicle

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The Arizona Coyotes surprised many with a good first half of the season, but the challenge now is maintaining those performance levels and clinching a playoff spot.

With a little over 30 games remaining in the 2015-16 NHL season, the Coyotes find themselves in third place in the Pacific Division. A 53-point haul (24 wins, 20 losses, five overtime losses) through 49 games means the Coyotes occupy a playoff position, and the team has not made the postseason since 2012. Coach Dave Tippett has guided the surprising Coyotes to a two-point over the fourth-placed Anaheim Ducks and the fifth-placed Vancouver Canucks.

The Coyotes take on the Los Angeles Kings in Glendale on Tuesday night, and games of any kind in Glendale – let alone massive divisional battles against teams like the Kings – were in doubt over the summer. However, the team has not looked back since receiving a new lease on life in the desert. Experience and youth have combined to breathe fresh air into the franchise.

Captain Shane Doan, the last active player from the original Winnipeg Jets franchise which moved to Phoenix in 1996, leads the team with 17 goals. On Dec. 31, he scored his 38oth career goal, which made him the Coyotes’ all-time leading goalscorer. The 39-year-old scored 14 goals in the entire 2014-15 season, and the captain’s surprising season has keyed the team’s success.

Center Antoine Vermette, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer after a trade from the Coyotes, was brought back in free agency and has also proven his value with eight goals and 12 assists. Right winger Brad Richardson, a 30-year-old in his first season with the Coyotes, has chipped in with five goals (two game-winning goals) and 15 assists.

However, the Coyotes’ most promising and exciting talent is younger than 30. Three-time All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is tied for the team lead with 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists) and has scored six game-winning goals. Ekman-Larsson’s play has received many plaudits from those around the game, and he’s received praise from Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey.

Once-unheralded goaltender Louis Domingue has also done his part to shore up the Coyotes’ defense. The rookie netminder has nine wins and has a very good 2.31 goals against average. In addition, the 23-year-old Domingue has a save percentage of over 92%.

A pair of 20-year-olds, center Max Domi and winger Anthony Duclair, are making waves as Gila River Arena as well. Domi, a first round pick in the 2013 draft, has 13 goals and 19 assists in 49 games. Duclair, acquired in last spring’s Keith Yandle trade with the New York Rangers, also has 13 goals this season, meaning five Coyotes players have exceeded double-digits in goals with more than two months remaining.

The Coyotes will look to build on their surprising first half, and over the next two months they will look to prove their credentials and push for the postseason.

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