When you’re playing well and winning, things like this do not happen.
Then again, when you’re the Arizona Coyotes and you’ve dropped 16 of your last 17 games and sport a 10-23-5 home record, the wheels seem to come off every night.
If there are two words which characterize the Coyotes fate of late, there are “mistakes,” and “frustration.”
The despair is rampant in voice of the participants, and when players meet the media after games, their words are soft and heads bowed. The fortunes of this team unraveled early in the season, and there appear no relief to the misery.
After a strong effort Saturday against Pittsburgh, the Coyotes took a step back against Vancouver Sunday night and chased the puck for nearly 60 minutes. The end result was a pair of 3-1 losses, but both the Penguins and Canucks hit the empty late to create the two goal margin.
In each game, one bad bounce cost the Coyotes an competitive edge, and at this point in the season, execution tends to transcend results in the standings.
Above all, this team is not scoring and have lit the red light only seven times in their last eight games, including scoring only once in five times in that stretch.
“To get more scoring chances, we have to control the puck and better fore-check,” said Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who became the fourth defenseman in franchise history, and the first as a Coyotes, to score 20 goals in a season. “Sure, it’s frustrating, and everyone is playing hard, but we have to get more chances at the net.”
When a team is going as poorly as the Coyotes, breaks are as distant as snow in San Diego. Two circumstances, in the Penguins and Canucks game, highlight the current state of affairs.
Against Pittsburgh, the Coyotes held a 1-0 lead mid-way through the second period
At that point, Joe Vitale was called for tripping and the Penguins went on the power play. In an attempt to clear the puck up the rink, goalie Mike Smith’s pass right through the slot hit Brandon Sutter and deflected in behind Smith for a fluke goal. That tied the game at 1-1 and less than 4 minutes later, Daniel Winnik tipped in a shot in front for the game winning. Later, Sidney Crosby hit an empty net 12 seconds remaining and the Coyotes’ frustration continued
The second misfortune took place in the Vancouver game, and resulted in a similar manner.
Vitale was involved again and this time, he was called for tripping late in the third period. From there, Alexander Edler’s shot from the left point banged off the right post and in for his seventh goal of the season. In the same manner as the Penguins game, Henrik Sedin then hit the empty net with 1:09 remaining and that continued the Coyotes’ misery.
The tripping call against Vitale was marginal at best, and the Coyotes’ center did not agree with the call.
“Looks, it’s a tie game, we’re hanging on, fighting for a win, and then the call,” he said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty.”
Coach Dave Tippett turned the play around.
“The puck was lost in the neutral zone, and we had to get back,” he said. “If that happened to us, we’d look for a call.”
two critical plays
While the errant clearing pass from Smith and a penalty at a most inopportune time could be called into play, the Coyotes lack of scoring remains a significant issue. The odd reality is no player is stepping forward and scoring.
Only three players have had multi-goal games this season, and this include Mikkel Boedker, three goals on Oct. 15 against the Oilers, and a pair against the Jets on Jan. 6. Martin Hanzal scored a “hat trick” at Vancouver Nov. 14 and Ekman-Larsson scored twice against the Avs at home on March 19.
“Guys are trying real hard, and the schedule doesn’t seem to be on our favor,” Smith said after stopping 41 of 43 Vancouver shots Sunday night. “We’re playing teams in the playoff hunt, and we can’t give up power play opportunists to teams like that. That’s especially true at the end f the game.”
The reference here was to Vitale’s tripping call. In the end, that signal by referee Mike Leggo would not have made much of a difference should the Coyotes find more ways to ignite the red light.
Follow Mark Brown on twitter, @journalist193