GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Phoenix Coyotes labored through the first half of the season, slogging through a rash of injuries, a brutal schedule and inconsistency.
Once the calendar flipped to February, the Coyotes pulled together, got back to their defense-minded approach and shot up the standings.
At this point, it shouldn't be much of a surprise.
In the previous two seasons, Phoenix put together winning streaks of at least five games after the All-Star break, propelling them toward a playoff berth despite being run by the NHL.
They've done it again without an owner this season, earning at least a point in eight straight games to pull within two points of San Jose for the Pacific Division lead.
So what is it about February that puts a charge into the Coyotes? They're not even sure.
"I don't know what it is," Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata said on Monday. "It seems like every year, we've needed a stretch like that. In this conference, you need stretches like that to be in the playoff picture and we've done that."
Rest has had something to do with this season's surge.
The first half of the season was an unmerciful mix of key injuries and a difficult schedule front-loaded with long road trips. Phoenix players missed a combined 84 games, including 18 by goalie Mike Smith and center Martin Hanzal, and the team racked up an estimated 28,000 miles the six weeks before the All-Star break.
With a week off to heal and rest, the Coyotes came back refreshed, following a well-played loss to Anaheim in their first post-break game with a 7-0-1 stretch that moved them from 12th in the Western Conference to seventh, two points ahead of Calgary and the Los Angeles Kings.
"We were pretty tired at the end of the stretch that we went through — we had a pretty tough go there," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "Once the All-Star break got here, we were able to get some rest and some confidence instead of trying to just survive."
That's not the whole story, though.
Phoenix is still beset by injuries: Taylor Pyatt, Hanzal, David Schlemko, Rostislav Klesla and Kyle Chipchura are all out or questionable for Tuesday night's home game against the Kings. Defenseman Derek Morris also is out indefinitely while dealing with an illness in the family.
Grizz fall in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS — The Utah Grizzlies scored two third period goals to cut a 4-1 deficit to 4-3, but fell short early Monday morning in Las Vegas. The game started just after midnight Las Vegas time.
The Wranglers led 2-0 after one period and 3-0 headed towards the halfway point before Utah got on the board. C.J. Severyn sent a puck through traffic and in to make it 3-1 as Jordan Foreman screened the Las Vegas goaltender.
At 4-1 in the third period, the Grizzlies rallied with two Justin Dowling goals in a 1:54 span at 11:08 and 13:02.
Utah continued to keep pressure on the Las Vegas net, redirecting several pucks wide. In the final minute with an empty-net, Las Vegas looked to have two sure empty-net goals, but Grizzlies came flying out of nowhere to protect the net.
— Deseret News
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