After an encouraging effort but a disappointing result, there were far too many excuses in the Arizona Coyotes dressing room on Thursday night. Old school coaches would have likely thrown out the contemporary clichés the Coyotes tossed about, and dug for more concrete reasons for the setback.
Despite a 5-4 overtime loss the defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks before a sell-out crowd of 17,125 in Gila River Arena, the Coyotes threw terms around like “an entertaining game,” “confidence,” and “picking up an important point.”
The bottom line should have been finding a way to play strong, solid, consistent hockey for a full 60 minutes, and gain the ability to hang with one of the elite teams. Down the stretch, the Coyotes will have to play better, play with more consistency and play with a greater, determined will. Otherwise, common phrases, like those aimlessly tossed about, will have to suffice.
That would be no consultation to a team on the precipice of trying to gain a seat at the Stanley Cup playoff table. The way things are going now, that may be more of a wish than reality.
In their last three games, the Coyotes have allowed 16 goals and that does not bode well for the critical games ahead. Nonetheless, goalie Louis Domingue, who remains winless in his last three starts, said his game was coming around and felt, as he told reporters afterward, “I’m feeling comfortable again.”
A principal malady which plagued Domingue in recent games was not covering the short side, and that inefficiency in his game appeared again. With the Coyotes clinging to a 1-0 lead early in the second period, the Hawks’ Marion Hossa skipped around Oliver Ekman-Larsson and fired on Domingue from the short side. The puck glanced of the goalie’s shoulder and into the net to knot this one.
As well, Domingue was guilty on another goal of not playing his position properly. Again with a one-goal lead at 3-2, Patrick Kane, taking a rink-wide pass from Artemi Panarin, slide a backhander between Domingue’s pads to create a 3-3 deadline. Had Domingue been standing up and his stick on the ice, Kane’s shot would not have found its way through the 5-hole.
Despite the absence of a full 60 minutes, the Coyotes seemed satisfied with the one point. Trying to find that elusive second, standing point was the principal topic of conversation in the dressing room.
“We’re disappointed with the results, but had a strong game against a strong team,” said winger Mikkel Boedker, who scored his first goal since Dec. 27. “They’re a good team with some very good players. I thought the bounces seemed to go their way.”
One Point Is Not Enough
In gaining the one point, there was almost a sense of relief. While players talked of completing the task, there seemed to be a comfort level with picking up a point against a team like the Hawks.
“We had opportunities to get that second point,” said captain Shane Doan. “We need to get that second point, and we did not do that. It’s big getting one, but we have to find ways to get that second. Things right now are tight, and two points is very important.”
After the initial practice following the recent All-Star break, coach Dave Tippett said execution and results of special teams had to be addressed. At the break, the Coyotes were near the bottom in the NHL in killing penalties and allowed the most shorthanded goals. That trend continued against Chicago. With the score tied at 1-1, Jonathan Toews fired in a shorthanded goal at 4:00 of the middle period, and that added to the Coyotes total of 10 goals allowed while skating with the man advantage.
While Tippett and others avoided certain variables of the game, the emphasis seemed to be on gathering a second point in this contest. With the Pacific Division tightening, the Coyotes next three games are all against division teams and every standing point is vital. The most direct challenge begins Friday night in the Honda Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Then, it’s right back at home for critical games against Vancouver and Calgary.
After play Thursday night, the Coyotes had 54 standing points. They are four points behind San Jose and one point behind Anaheim in the division. With a win Friday against the Ducks, Arizona can leap-frog past Anaheim and into third place within the division. The question remains, can they stay there?