Better, but not quite to an acceptable level.
With just over a month into the NHL season, that’s the way Arizona coach Dave Tippet looks at his team. Tippett likes to use the word “execution” to describe the progress, or lack of, from his team. From a coach’s perspective, that can mean several things but in the case of Tippett, puck movement and defensive play are the principals keys to winning.
While the Coyotes’ overall execution Tuesday night might be considered as “acceptable,” Tippett told reporters after a 2-1 loss to Washington before 11,769 in Gila River Arena that his team “needs to clean up a few things.”
Puck movement may not be one dimension of the Coyotes’ game which needs attention. Throughout a game in which either could have won, Coyotes’ defensemen were constantly clearing the puck from their end and forwards finished off crisp passes with a territorial edge in the Washington end. Then again, from Tippett’s perspective, this was not quite the execution he would like.
the need to be competitive
“We need to be more competitive,” he said the Coyotes after picked up points in their third straight game. “I would like to see us execute a little better. I thought we played too long in our zone and when that happens, you don’t get to the offensive end fast enough.”
If the execution was better in the second period Tuesday night when the Coyotes held Washington to two shots on net, the consensus in the locker room was satisfaction in knowing the Coyotes played with and can maintain a high level of puck control.
After Oliver Ekman-Larsson tied the game with a wrist shot into an open net exactly 2-minutes into the second period, the Coyotes’ execution peaked. Holding the Capitals to one shot through the first five minutes of the period and those two for the entire second session, the Coyotes’ puck movement, while stellar, could not generate a plethora of scoring opportunities. That was secondary to the discipline exhibited.
“The quicker we can get the puck out of our end, the better,” said defenseman Michael Stone. “The goal is to quickly get the puck moving and that means we, as a defense, are doing our job.”
Despite lack of scoring chances, the Coyotes managed to put 24 shots on goalie Braden Holtby but came away with only one goal. More importantly, the two goals allowed represent three goals surrendered in their last three games and an encouraging sign.
“The passes set up scoring chances and that gives you an opportunity for success,” added defenseman Chris Summers. “We talk all the time about getting the puck out of our zone quickly.”
The two shots allowed in the second period was a team mark for the season. Previously, the Coyotes allowed three shots in a period three times this season and the last was surrendered to the Leafs on Nov. 4. Still, the coach pointed out, overall play needs to be more consistent.
“I would like to see us break-out better,” Tippett said. “Look, we are where we are right now but I would like to see us be more competitive”
Beginning play Tuesday night, the Coyotes were five standing points from a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Their 17 points were five back of the Kings for the final playoff spot, and nine points behind the Pacific Division-leading Ducks. Picking up one point against the Capitals increasing their point production to 18 but still a distance from reaching teams ahead.
“We’ll have a good practice (Wednesday), address some issues, and go back on the road,” Tippett said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some more points.”
Immediately ahead is a three-game road trip beginning Thursday against the Stars in Dallas. That follows games in San Jose and Anaheim this weekend.
After this stretch, the Coyotes then have seven of their next nine at home. That brings the slate to mid-December and a critical stage in their schedule.
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.