Pride, consistency, and identity driving Coyotes' top-ranked defense

In terms of team defense, the Coyotes find themselves atop the NHL.

"We hang our hat on defending the puck well,"Rick Tocchet stressed. "Guys take it personal."

It's showing.

The Coyotes have allowed the fewest goals in the league (15) through eight games played, which translates to the lowest goals-against average (1.88) among all 31 teams.

They have yet to allow more than two goals in regulation this season.

Their model is contingent on consistency in all aspects of the game, but with a driven focus on defending the puck. Team defense is the core of the team's identity.

"Defending the puck takes all 21 guys," Tocchet added. "You can't have players willing to defend and players not willing to. Every guy is buying in to how we're trying to defend and how we're trying to play."

Even with the injuries to two of their top six defensemen in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jordan Oesterle, the Coyotes have stayed true to their systematic approach night-in and night-out, maintaining the execution of their defensive approach, which Antti Raanta referred to as the "heart and soul" of the team.

Then, of course, there's stopping the puck. If you're looking for a singular example of consistency on the Coyotes' roster, go no further thanDarcy Kuemper, who has gone 13 straight starts allowing two goals or fewer.

Kuemper broke a franchise record that went untouched for more than 20 years, surpassing Nikolai Khabibulin's former stretch of 11 games set during early in the 1998-99 season. He is currently tied for first in save percentage (.944) and ranks third in goals-against average (1.68) among goalies who have played four or more games this year.

"It's just a credit to our team playing the right way and being consistent every night," Kuemper said of his statistics and team record. "It's more of a team number than a me number. If you give up only two [goals], I like our chances. But this is the whole team committed to playing that way, limiting chances and being defensively aware all over the ice."

Kuemper is far from being the Coyotes' only option in net with Raanta back to full health and ready to play in any given game, a duo Tocchet called a "luxury" to have. The team has earned three of a possible four points in the two games Raanta's played this season.

"We're lucky we have this problem of 'who do we play?", that's a great problem to have," Tocchet said.

With two reliable puck stoppers in net, it comes down to managing the duo; and so far, the process has been fluid.

"We've got two quality goaltenders, I'm lucky to have those two goaltenders," Tocchet added. "The hard part is to make sure everyone gets their time, I don't want goalies to sit and freeze. We're lucky."

The Coyotes have been supporting their goaltenders, too. They're outscoring opponents by a 2-to-1 margin (20-10) during their current six-game point streak (5-0-1) and 17-8 during their active four-game win streak.

That's because the team has been staying true to its identity. With sound defense comes transition, which leads to possession and generated opportunity at the other end of the ice. Like the old adage says, it's a 200-foot game.

"We can't take anyone for granted," Tocchet said. "We just have to play to who we are. We're a hard-working team and everybody's got to contribute."

And the bottom line, from a head coach who's deservedly seeing the fruits of his labor through results and through three-plus years of dedicated work and concept implementation:

"We have to lock it down defensively. And then, the timely goals will come."

So far, so good.

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