When you’re struggling for wins and respectability, the last thing you would want to happen is another roadblock and more adversity. Plus, when you’re at the bottom of the NHL standings, like the Arizona Coyotes, that’s just another kick in the teeth.
Add playing shorthanded for nearly one full contest to the litany of maladies plaguing the Coyotes this season.
For nearly the entire game against the visiting St. Louis Blues Saturday in Gila River Arena, the Coyotes employed only five defensemen. With a key blueliner tossed out of this one early, the Blues gained an enormous territorial edge early and maintained control. In the end, the Coyotes showed a small measure of push-back, but not enough to avoid a 3-0 loss to the Blues before a crowd of 15,132.
From the Coyotes’ perspective, the unfortunate play occurred less than two minutes into the game. That’s when defenseman Anthony DeAngelo slammed Zack Sanford head-first into the boards and paid for the hit. On the play, DeAngelo was assessed a five-minute major for drawing blood to Sanford’s face and a game misconduct.
Though the Coyotes were forced into an immediate hole, coach Dave Tippett told The Hockey Writers there was merit to the call.
“There was no intent, but when a player hits head-first into the boards, you can see why the call was made,” Tippett said. “It was the right call at the right time. When you’re shorthanded for the first five minutes of the game, that sets the tone.”
To compensate, Tippett double-shifted between Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jakob Chychrun, Luke Schenn and Connor Murphy. The result was extra minutes and added responsibilities.
“When you change defensive partners, there’s more communication,” Schenn told The Hockey Writers. “Look, that was a bitter call and from there, we didn’t have a very good first period.”
To pick up one another, the Coyotes nearly survived the major while shorthanded at the start of the game. That’s when Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo beat goalie Mike Smith from 30 feet at 6:53. The goal came with three seconds remaining on the major. With that marker, the Blues created momentum which the Coyotes, as a relatively young team, had difficulty challenging.
Going forward in the rebuilding of the Arizona franchise, the experience early and throughout this game can serve as a principal point on general manager John Chayka and Tippett’s radar screen. Discipline and restraint are necessary variables for a young team to truly reach a competitive level. Players tend to recognize the fine line between being aggressive and careless, but intelligent execution becomes the norm.
As the Coyotes had difficulty gaining momentum early in this game, they failed to generate much offense in front of Blues’ goalie Jake Allen, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season and the 15th in his NHL career. The fact that the Coyotes managed just three shots on net in the first period did not help.
“We were not doing enough to make it hard on (Allen),” Arizona goalie Mike Smith told The Hockey Writers. “I thought it was an easy night for him.”
The combination of a continued lack of sustained offense and greater discipline on the part of DeAngelo may have taken the Coyotes to a higher competitive level in this one. Then again, that sounds like a broken record for a team looking to find a creditable path to the future.