For a team with dwindling fan support, the Phoenix Coyotes have certainly enjoyed home-ice advantage lately, and it appears they’ll be staying in the desert for the foreseeable future.
One day after a buyer emerged with a commitment to keep the team in Arizona, the surprising Coyotes will try for a sixth straight home win on Saturday night, when they can also send the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks to a fifth consecutive loss.
Phoenix is the only NHL team averaging fewer than 10,000 fans, and the franchise has dealt with a bankruptcy claim and major doubts about its future location in the past several months.
But the investment group Ice Edge Holdings signed a letter of intent Friday to buy the Coyotes from the league, which had taken control of the club in October. The group intends to keep the team in suburban Phoenix.
After six straight seasons without a playoff berth, the Coyotes (18-11-2) have put a quality team on the ice in their first season under coach Dave Tippett. They’ve been especially good at home, allowing a total of six goals during their five-game winning streak at Jobing.com Arena.
Even though the team’s string of five straight wins overall ended Thursday at Los Angeles, Phoenix earned a point after erasing an early two-goal deficit in a 3-2 shootout loss.
The Coyotes have allowed two or fewer goals in seven straight games and Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) ranks third with a 1.98 goals-against average and is tied with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller(notes) for the league lead with four shutouts. Still, Phoenix continues to search for ways to improve its offense, which ranks near the bottom of the NHL with 2.42 goals per game.
“Goals have been a challenge for us,” Tippett told the Coyotes’ official Web site. “We’re finding ways to win hockey games, but we’re always looking for ways to expand our offense.”
But they were mostly held in check while the Sharks went 0-1-3 in the final four games of their recent homestand, creating their longest losing streak of the season. They managed one shootout goal in 11 rounds during a 3-2 loss to Dallas on Friday.
“I don’t think we played very well,” said defenseman Rob Blake(notes), who scored in regulation to give San Jose a 2-1 lead after one period. “That’s what happens when you let a team hang in there. We had the lead, but we weren’t playing well.”
It may not get much easier as Bryzgalov is the only goalie who has blanked the Sharks this season. He stopped 26 shots in the Coyotes’ 1-0 shootout win on Oct. 12 in San Jose.
Phoenix is tied for sixth in the West but has ground to make up on the Kings and Sharks in the Pacific Division.
“We want to move up in the standings, and the teams that are above you in the standings - what better way than to beat those teams?” Tippett said. “These are big challenges for us, but our players recognize these are teams that we’re chasing. That turns into extra incentive.”
The Coyotes have typically struggled against Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov(notes), who is 10-2-2 with a 1.78 GAA in his last 16 starts against Phoenix. But he was pulled from his last visit to Glendale on March 17 after allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period of San Jose’s 4-3 loss.