If the Arizona Coyotes are going to exorcise playoff demons, they should take a hard look at their effort and result from Tuesday night.
Here’s a team which did not qualify for post-season play during the past two years and the talk during the first month of the season centered around commitment. While players and coaches like to tell listeners that the team is ready to escape from the past, the Coyotes learned a powerful lesson in a difficult-to-accept, 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars before an announced crowd of 11,866 in Gila River Arena.
If anything was gained from a game that could fore-shadow future developments, there needs to be a total resolve.
Giving up a 2-0 lead late in the second period, the Coyotes eventually lost in the final 1 minute, 16 seconds. That’s when the Stars’ Ryan Garbutt raced down the right wing, cut to the middle of the rink and beat goalie Mike Smith just under the cross-bar for the Stars’ first short-handed goal of the season to snap a 3-3 tie and hand a bitter pill for the Coyotes to swallow.
the necessity to put teams away
“We talk all the time about playing a complete, 60-minute game,” said defenseman Connor Murphy, who put the Coyotes on the scoreboard with his second goal of the season just 1 minute, 42 seconds into the game. “We know how important it is to play a complete 60-minute game and we’ll learn from this. We’ll keep working on that 60-minute game.”
With the win Tuesday night, the Stars snapped a seven-game losing streak and when Tyler Seguin popped in two goals and tied the Rangers’ Rick Nash for the league-lead in goals scored with 12, the Stars did not look like a team sliding downhill.
Then again, the Coyotes’ marginal play late in the second period sent a powerful message that play at the NHL level cannot be compromised.
“We’re getting opportunities but it seems the puck is not bouncing our way,” said Mikkel Boedker, who scored with under 4 minutes remaining to create a 3-3 tie. “It’s a tough loss but we have to learn and move forward.”
If the Coyotes need to immediately learn how to play with a lead, the ability to raise the level of their collective effort becomes critical.
“To win in this league, you cannot make mistakes at critical times,” said coach Dave Tippett. “Right now, our execution is not where it needs to be. We need to execute better.”
More importantly, Tippett added, “we need to put teams away.”
For Arizona, that has not happened this season and the Coyotes’ discipline level remains below Tippett’s expectation.
Still, the faint line on the Coyotes’ life-support monitor shows some life. Smith appears to shake the cobwebs of the opening weeks and has turned in several creditable games. The offense still scores “by committee,” and Tippett is waiting for one or several players to break through and start pumping in goals on a regular basis.
Through the opening month, the defense has kept the Coyotes in games but the once-considered Norris candidate, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, entered the Dallas game as a minus 10. Forwards Martin Erat (minus 6) and Lauri Korpikoski (minus seven) seem, at this point in the season, more liabilities than assets.
Yet, the bottom line is learning how to win and learning to play an elite level for an entire 60 minutes. Until the Coyotes master these two essentials dynamics of winning, they will likely experience more painful games like the frightful loss to Dallas on Tuesday night.
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.