As the hockey season continues to evolve, there may be one constant in the Arizona Coyotes’ overall game.
Individual play, at times, have been lauded but collectively, this is a team which continues to make critical mistakes at the most inopportune times. After lashing out on forwards for not doing their job during an important part of the Coyotes latest bout with failure, coach Dave Tippett said the coming weeks will be a clear barometer of where the team, in general, and younger players, in particular, stand.
More important, Tippett characterized the trade Wednesday of goalie Devan Dubnyk to the Minnesota Wild as clear handwriting on the wall. After all, he indicated after the Coyotes dropped a 4-1 decision to the Calgary Flames before 12,982 in Gila River Arena Thursday night, the club may be gearing up for significant changes.
Uneven play continues to hold the Coyotes hostage.
With the score tied at 1-1 in the third period, the Flames’ David Jones scored from the slot at 4:51 and gave Calgary an advantage did not relinquish. The way the Flames took the lead clearly caught Tippett’s attention.
“On that goal, we didn’t have people doing their job,” the coach pointed out. “There was (Martin) Erat and (Lucas) Lessio watching the puck and (Antoine) Vermette did not get back soon enough. At this point, there is work to do in some areas for the nature of the franchise. The (Dubynk) trade was the first move to get assets for the future of the franchise.”
After sending Dubynk on his way, the direction between the pipes is to go with Mike Smith, who three years ago guided to the Coyotes to the Western Conference finals. Since, the Kingston, Ont. native have been marginal at best and his 3.52 goals against average this year is the highest in his nine year NHL season.
After the Calgary loss, Smith acknowledged that his character and confidence did not increase after the trade. Only, Smith said, the need to be more consistent remains paramount.
In discussing his fate and the nature of the team, which sports the second worst record in the league, Smith said only for his team to look in the mirror.
“We put ourselves in this position,” he said. “It’s frustrating. Now, we have a big road trip and time to for the guys to come together. We’re always closer on the road, and maybe we can pick up a few wins.”
While the Gila River Arena is transformed by the NFL as its security and command headquarters for the up-coming Pro Bowl Game and Super Bowl, the Coyotes are forced from their home for the next three weeks.
After stops in Minnesota, Winnipeg, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Columbus, the Coyotes return home Feb. 5 against the Hurricanes. That may be a prescription for a brief break in this dreadful home season. Arizona is now 9-12-3 in 24 home games this season and minus 30 in the third period at home for the season.
On the road, they are not much better.
Beginning Saturday against the Wild, the Coyotes are 7-11-1 in 19 contests way from Gila River Arena.
Still, the coming weeks should foreshadow future personnel decisions.
“You see some of the younger players really making progress and making strides,” Tippett said. “However, over the next part of the season, all of those emotions will be tested. Believe me.”
solid first game
On Wednesday, the Coyotes recalled defenseman Philip Samuelsson from the AHL Portland Pirates.
Last season in the Penguins organization, the 23-year-old appeared in five games and subsequently came over the desert for forward Rob Klinkhammer and a conditional fifth round pick on Dec. 5. With Portland, he had one goal, two assists in 16 games and at Wilkes-Barre, Samuelsson recorded four assists in 22 contests.
Taking a regular shift with defensive partner Zbynek Michalek, Samuelsson played 18 minutes even and registered two shots on net.
“For a first game, I thought he was solid, very steady” said Tippett. “He played hard and moved the puck all night, I thought it was a very good first game for him.”
Samuelsson was in the line-up due to the continued absence of Brandon Gormley, out with an upper body injury.
Against Calgary, captain Shane Doan was scratched due to a leg injury.
Doan caught a puck on the leg Tuesday night against the Sharks and could not go Thursday night. Prior to the Flames game, Doan was one of six players who did not miss a contest this season. The others included Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mikkel Boedker, Erat and Vermette.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.