Oct 15, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Phoenix Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (11) passes to center Mike Ribeiro (63) as Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) defends during the third period at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Center Ice Effect

The Phoenix Coyotes completed their first ten games of the ’13-’14 NHL season, one that has been nothing less than successful. With nothing but stellar goaltending from Mike Smith, the NHL’s leader with 286 saves, the ‘Yotes have kept the puck away from their net. But a few skaters on the Coyotes’ have also been stellar so far: Newcomer Mike Ribeiro, and fellow center-men Martin Hanzal, Rob Klinkhammer, and Antoine Vermette. The four centers possessed by the Coyotes have combined to score fourteen of the Coyotes’ thirty goals so far this season. The spike in production, and veteran presence provided by the centers has led the hockey world to believe that Phoenix’s hot start may be less of a streak, and more of a trend.

Mike Ribeiro is a newly signed center, recently acquired from Washington over the summer. Ribeiro assisted the Capitals’ power play juggernaut last year, by scoring six power-play goals and ending with 27 total power play points. Ribeiro also ranked 24th in the NHL in Shot Percentage (20.6%); which indicates the relationship between shots a player takes and goals he scores. Ribeiro’s ability to be a playmaker, and sniper convinced the Coyotes’ management that taking a risk on the 33 year old was worth the money. Nonetheless, Ribeiro hasn’t managed to slip in production so far this season, despite starting off without managing a single point through his first three games. Ribeiro is currently atop the Coyotes scoring with 5 goals and four assists through ten games. Ribeiro is also currently riding a seven game point streak, and is ranked 11th in the NHL in goals scored. Coyotes’ captain Keith Yandle summarized Ribeiro’s efforts through ten in saying, “He’s a guy that brings a special element to our team.” Yandle continued in relief joking that it’s “Nice to not have to play against him.” Coyotes’ head coach Dave Tippet touched on Yandle in a postgame interview stating:

“The thing I like about him right now — he’s getting some points, he’s getting some goals, but he thinks the game, he does the right things protecting the lead. There are things he is doing that make him a real smart, complete player.” (Hat tip to Fox Sports Arizona)

It is obvious that Ribeiro’s existence in Phoenix has been felt in a positive way so far. In fact, if not for Ribeiro’s clutch goalscoring, the Coyotes would not be anywhere remotely close to where they are currently. Coach Tippet chuckled when he said, “It wasn’t masterpiece”, when he described the Coyotes’ win against the Flames on Tuesday night. Tippet went on to say that Ribeiro “finds ways to have an effect on the game”, and benefits the Coyotes as an unconventional player.

Though the addition of Ribeiro has paid dividends for the Coyotes’ organization, the familiar faces at the face-off dot have also been excellent for Phoenix. Rob Klinkhammer, Antoine Vermette, and Martin Hanzal have all produced for the ‘Yotes, with Klinkhammer and Hanzal both recording game winning goals to date. Hanzal is back this year after a previous year in which he only played 39 games due to injury. Hanzal, the Phoenix 2005 NHL Entry Draft First Pick plays a rough-style game, but has managed to gather up the assists in ’13. Hanzal also leads the team in penalty minutes with 17, including a fighting major. In his seventh season with the organization, the 26 year old is signed with the Coyotes through 2017.

Rob Klinkhammer could be the most surprising of the four players. Though he is a center by trade, Klinkhammer has been part of the line jumbling of the Phoenix Coyotes, now occupying the first line left wing alongside Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan. Klinkhammer spent the previous season between the Coyotes, and their AHL affiliate the Portland Pirates. In 53 games with Portland, Klinkhammer produced NHL-caliber numbers, while scoring 14-30-44. In 22 games with the NHL club, Klinkhammer managed a mere five goals with six assists. Through ten games, Klinkhammer is one goal away from tying his goal total from last season. In an interview with NHL.com, Klinkhammer talked extensively about his game saying he wished to cntinue to “do the little things right, [because] that’s the most important part of my game.” Klinkhammer has done an exceptional job of working to get shots at the net this season, which the numbers show are helping his game extensively.

Antoine Vermette shares the majority of his lines’ points with Doan and Klinkhammer. His stats, though not spectacular, reflect a two-way playmaker; one who sports a +6 Plus/Minus rating. Vermette also possesses a 61.5% efficiency rating at the face-off dot, leading the Coyotes in such a stat. Vermette has contributed each night for the Coyotes, hoping to get a contract extension on his current contract which is valid through the next season.

The Phoenix Coyotes’ quick start can be attributed to efforts from Radim Vrbata, Mike Smith, even Dave Tippet and the Front office, but the undermining force for the Phoenix Coyotes through their first ten regular season games has certainly been their presence in the middle of the ice.

-Tyler Jones, Writer Howlin’ Hockey

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