As the Arizona Coyotes head into the All-Star break, things appeared have gone from worse to the abysmal.
Not only do the Coyotes enter the mid-season classic with a six-game losing streak, they finished their first 45 games with a unceremonious, 6-1 pasting to the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night.
For several reasons, the loss was note-worthy.
First, goal tender Mike Smith and the defense faced a season-high 51 shots on net. The previous high was 43 twice and the last time was Dec. 4 against the Kings. Plus, the 20 shots allowed in the opening period against the Hawks was also a season-high. Previously, Arizona surrendered 19 in the third period in that game against the Kings on Dec. 4.
This appears to be a team spiraling out of control.
In only two brief periods this season have the Coyotes been able to string any success along. These represented two, three game, modest winning streaks, and the last Arizona win was at the expense of the Winnipeg Jets, a 4-1 victory at home on Jan. 8.
For the most part, this season ran away in a hurry.
From the beginning, Smith was unsteady and easily beatable. The scoring, while not stellar to start, has been unreliable. Here’s a team which was shut out seven times and registered one goal in a game eight times here at the All-Star break.
If things are heading south in a hurry, the Coyotes just lost their top scorer Mikkel Boedker for an indefinitely period due to a ruptured spleen sustained last Sunday night in Winnipeg.
Full recovery for this type of injury usually takes four to six weeks so don’t expect Boedker back in the line-up any time soon.
Boedker was one of only six players with a 20-point scoring season or better, and that ranks among the lowest in the NHL.
After the trade of goalie Devan Dubnyk to the Wild last week, the Coyotes made a commitment to Smith for the rest of the season.
Currently with a $34 million contract stuffed neatly in his pocket, Smith is no where near the level of his play three years ago. That’s when he led the Coyotes to the Western Conference finals against the Kings, recorded a 38-18-10 season, 2,21 goals against and eight shut-outs. Through he went 9-7 in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoff year, his numbers were better. Smith registered a 1.98 GAA and turned in three shut outs in 16 post-season games.
Since, he’s been in a steady free-fall.
This season, the 6-4 native of Kingston, Ont. tells reporters that while his start was difficult, he believes his game is changing for the better. “I feel my old swagger back,” he said after a recent practice, but performances in games are sub-par at best.
commitment to Smith
Regardless of what he says or how he says he feels, coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney will stay with Smith.
Between next Tuesday against the Flyers at the Well Fargo Center, when the Coyotes resume their schedule, until the end of the season, Arizona has six, back-to-back games of their remaining 37 contests. That should not tax Smith in not going in back-to-back at an unrealistic clip.
Should the Coyotes sustain any breath left in the season, the defensemen need to step up their collective game. Guilty of give-aways, especially in their end, Keith Yandle, all-star Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone, Connor Murphy, Brandon Gormley, Philip Samuelsson and Zbynek Michalek need to play nearly air-tight hockey.
If that happens, then forwards must appear seemingly out of no-where to put the puck in the net. Through the All-Star break, Tippett has received little or no production from B. J. Crombeen, Lauri Korpikoski, Kyle Chipchura, Brandon McMilian and David Moss.
Only in the past few weeks has production for Sam Gagner picked up, but Tobias Rieder has surprised with intelligent play on his left wing and creation of scoring chances.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Coyotes are hanging dangerously close to the Edmonton Oilers as the team with the worst record. At this point, there’s not much to be encouraged by past performance nor future expectation.
on the road again
The Coyotes’ home rink, Gila River Arena, is part of a complex called Westgate in the western suburbs of Phoenix.
Across the street in this mix-use complex of bars, restaurants and hotels is the University of Phoenix Stadium, site of this Sunday’s NFL Pro Bowl Game and next Sunday’s Super Bowl. The NFL has taken over the arena as their security headquarters for two weeks and forced the Coyotes on the road.
As a result, the Coyotes abandoned their building and set out, for three weeks, on an eight-game road trip, longest in franchise history.
After picking up one standing point in their first three road games of the trip, Arizona breaks from the All-Star Game with contests in Philadelphia, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Columbus.
They return home Thursday Feb. 5 against Carolina. In total, the Coyotes have 15 of 20 games on the road from Jan. 18 to Feb. 28.
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.