One look at the standings and it’s clear the Arizona Coyotes are facing desperate times. Given the reality of being buried deep in the Pacific Division, the question remains whether the Coyotes would play like a desperate team.
Clearly, their opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks for a Thursday night encounter at home, was a desperate club. Dropping three straight coming into this one and losers of five in their previous eight games, the Hawks came out flying and roared out to a three-goal lead by late in the opening period.
Because the Coyotes said they had no “push back” in a loss the Kings during their previous game on Jan. 31, the desperate nature of play was as absent as their collective ability to push back from this deficient.
Then, a break occurred that a team hopes for and needs in order to capitalize.
The Hawks were called for two minors within nine seconds early in the middle session, and that was the lift that forced the Coyotes into a desperate mode. A power-play goal from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a pair later into the second period, 1 minute, 27 seconds apart, closed the gap to a one-goal Hawks advantage. Then, no more.
The bottom line was the Coyotes 28th loss of the season, and a 4-3 defeat to the Hawks before a sell-out crowd of 17,125 in Gila River Arena. Only Colorado has lost more games.
If the Coyotes did not push back in that loss to the Kings, that lesson was learned against Chicago. Though the Coyotes struggled to get back in this one, another valuable message was difficult to accept. That was the necessity to start early, and sustain momentum.
“After the first period, we were embarrassed,” left wing Brendan Perlini told The Hockey Writers. “We responded in the second and third, but need to come out strong and not chase the game.”
Coach Dave Tippett was more direct. In candid terms, Tippett pointed out the fact that execution was poor and it dictated the tempo of the game.
“We knew what was coming (from Chicago) and did not react very well,” he said. “We had lots of tries and we’d like to see more execution. The execution was so poor there in the first period that we had to play most of the period in our end.”
Skating off with that three-goal advantage after the opening session, the Hawks out-shot Arizona 14-6. Plus, the Coyotes allowed two power-play goals in that first period. Coming into the game, Arizona was 26th in the NHL in killing penalties with a 77.2 percentage.
Still, they mounted a comeback and as Perini pointed out, “we didn’t roll over and give them the game.”
Desperate For Wins
If the Coyotes showed little push back in the third period in that loss to the Kings, things improved slightly against the Hawks. While the result was not clearly acceptable to a team desperate for wins, this was considered another step in the overall NHL education of one of the youngest teams in the league.
“We started to push back there in the second,” said center Christian Dvorak, who chipped in with a goal and one assist. “We showed something in the last 40 minutes, but can’t allow teams to jump out like (the Hawks) did.”
Now, the task does not get easier. The Coyotes’ next two games are against division leaders. On Saturday, they take on the Pacific Division-leading Sharks in San Jose and then at home against Montreal, leaders in the Atlantic Division, next Thursday 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.