With the NHL’s annual holiday break officially over, the Kings are in Phoenix tonight to face a familiar foe in Shane Doan and his Arizona Coyotes. Long the face of Phoenix hockey, the 39-year-old veteran is experiencing a bit of a renaissance prior to wrapping up his illustrious career. Not only are the Coyotes fighting for a playoff spot after years of ineptness, his own offense is on the upswing, including four goals in the previous six contests. Adding to those totals tonight would not be shocking at all, as the rugged right wing has posted 69 points in 103 career games vs. Los Angeles; and his 36 goals are tops against any other team.
Even so, when the Coyotes won back-to-to-back games in Anaheim and Los Angeles last month, Doan preferred to talk more about scoreboard success than individual accomplishments.
“When’s the last time we did that?” he asked. “Obviously the three teams in California have had so much success in the last few years, it’s hard to come [here] and win games. They’re the measuring stick for a lot of the league and we realize we have a long way to go. Playing against these guys and competing against them is always tough.”
At that point, it was still a little early to talk about the playoffs – “What are we at, game 15? If you talk to me with 15 games left, and we are still in this position, maybe,” he noted. “We have a young team that if we can get some momentum then we have a chance. Our blue line has been good and Oliver [Ekman-Larsson] has been amazing. He kind of drags that whole group along. When he is as good as he is, everybody looks good back there. Up front, Marty [Hanzal] has been good and our goaltending has been good. Put that together and a couple of young guys scoring some goals and we can compete.”
Now, with nearly another quarter of the season expired, and nearing the halfway mark, the Coyotes haven’t gone away. They’re still right in the mix and a large part of the credit goes to their young players, led by rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. “[Having] those guys playing big minutes is important for us,” remarked Doan. “Not just big minutes, but being successful and playing big minutes. Whenever you do that as a team, you bring in young guys that have success, it seems to rejuvenate everyone. The same thing happened in L.A. when Pearson, Toffoli and King and Nolan came in and gave them a little extra life. It’s the same thing for us. When you have young guys come in and contribute, it gives you a little bit more jump.”
Doan’s former teammate Ray Whitney once shared with us, in a now-classic rant, the frustrations he faced with younger players toward the end of his career. No such complaints are coming from the Coyotes captain. “It’s probably been the thing that’s been most impressive with our young guys is that they’ve been beyond – beyond – gracious with the way they’ve come in and wanted to fit in with the group and do whatever it takes,” he told MayorsManor. “You see young guys come in with a lot of skill and a lot of ability, but you realize that the league is going to eat them up because they might not have the character or the demeanor to last a long time. It seems our young guys, we’ve been fortune that they’ve come in with unbelievable character and demeanor and the way that they handle themselves. … They’ve all kind of taken the lead and they’ve been great. When that happens, you start to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel and things start to get more exciting. You start to think you have a chance.”
And that likely played into his decision to return this season. You may recall, late last season he did an interview with us where he sounded more like he was leaning toward retirement that finishing out the last few years on his contract.
“I’m enjoying this season a lot,” he said, with one of his classic Doan chuckles. “I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can. “
One thing he certainly didn’t like seeing last month was nemesis Dustin Brown score his first goal of the season when the Coyotes were at Staples Center. “It’s one of the things that I knew everyone was aware of, [that he hadn’t] scored coming into the game,” said Doan. “For him to get that one, you knew that they were going to have a good game. That line was buzzing. The first probably 40 minutes, they had the puck majority of the time and you knew that was going to happen. Once he scores, he’s going to have a lot more confidence. The game is so mental, and if you can try to find a mental way to get into it early, then it’s great. Him scoring, that got him [into it] and the rest of us had to match up.”
The two team captains have had more than their share of differences on the ice over the past decade and, after tonight, they’re schedule to play two more times this season. Beyond that?
“If the time comes and I want to play another year and they want me to come back, I’ll discuss it,” stated Doan. “Right now, I’m enjoying it. If you’re enjoying the game, I think you should keep playing. But at the same time, you can’t be naive to think that if you’re not contributing. If I can contribute, I’d like to play, but if I’m not contributing the way I want to, then it’s probably time. Right now, we’re [still in the playoff hunt] and I didn’t really know where we were going to be. It’s exciting that we’re in the position we’re in right now and I’m enjoying it.”
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