A whispering official, a hat trick, and a puck down the pants. All in all, the Phoenix Coyotes experienced no shortage of dramatic and peculiar events during their recent road trip.
With a 2-1 overtime loss in Buffalo on Monday night, the Coyotes concluded a four game swing that also included stops in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Altogether, the Coyotes scooped up four points on the trip, tying them with Minnesota for eighth in the NHL Western Conference standings headed into the brief holiday break.
After the Sabres tied the game late in the third period to force overtime, Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal deflected a shot from Buffalo blueliner Mark Pysyk. The puck eventually lodged itself in the back of goaltender Mike Smith’s pants. Evidently unaware of this, Smith anticipated a rebound shot and backed up into net, but by doing so, the puck crossed the goal line and allowed the Sabres to skate off with the win.
Smith was clearly frustrated with the final outcome of Monday’s contest.
“I guess if they (the officials) don’t see the puck they’re supposed to blow the whistle, but that’s not what happened.” Smith said. “I think we did a lot of good things on the road trip until this game . . . It was just a garbage game.”
The Scoring Struggle Continues
The strange ending aside, Monday’s game in Buffalo was another difficult, almost painstaking night of missed opportunities for the Coyotes, played versus a Sabres team currently stuck in the basement of the NHL standings. With the exception of Antoine Vermette’s hat trick in Ottawa on Saturday that provided the Coyotes their only win during the four game trip, there was little in terms of offensive output. The Coyotes only managed one goal in each of the other three games during their eastern swing.
“The game is an honest game. If you’re supposed to win, usually you can win, and we didn’t deserve to win tonight,” Phoenix Coach Dave Tippett said after Monday’s loss. “We didn’t compete hard enough . . . we let points slip away.”
Tippett’s comments echoed similar frustrations he expressed last Tuesday, after the Coyotes opened the road trip with with a 3-1 loss in Montreal. In that contest, the Coyotes failed to capitalize on four power play opportunities (including a full four minute man advantage). Only two nights later in Toronto, they couldn’t take advantage of two power play chances; in Buffalo, they came up empty on five.
“Obviously, you look at our power play and we’ve got to be better to win those games,” defenseman Keith Yandle added. “It’s never fun losing, especially when you have to sit on it for a few days.”
The Toronto game, which the Coyotes dropped 2-1 in a shootout, also ended on an abnormal note. During the first round of the shootout, the Maple Leafs were credited with a goal, even though it appeared the officials could not deduce whether or not the puck crossed the goal line after Smith trapped it with his pads. None of the officials signaled a goal scored, but one of them skated over to Smith and whispered to him that the puck was in. Despite no actual signal, the whisper sufficed as the official call that was given deference on video review (which was inconclusive).
The Coyotes have fizzled somewhat after a strong start to the season and have now dropped four out of their last five contests. After a few days off for Christmas, things won’t get any easier. On Friday, they host the San Jose Sharks, and the very next evening, they venture to Southern California to face the Anaheim Ducks. Back to back games against elite Pacific Division opponents (Ducks currently lead the division while the Sharks are in third place) are daunting enough, but even more so with Phoenix captain Shane Doan still out of the lineup.
Doan has missed the last eight games due to illness after contracting a form of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. According to the team, Doan is slowly regaining his strength and feeling better every day. Top Coyotes insider Jerry Brown (of NHL.com) recently reported that Doan could even return to the ice by New Year’s Eve, when the Coyotes face off at home against Edmonton. The captain’s return to the lineup cannot come soon enough as the Coyotes continue to struggle with inconsistent play on both ends of the ice, with no respite in sight from a challenging Western Conference schedule.