For all the strides coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney believe they have made over last season, this version of the Arizona Coyotes is not ready for prime time.
A plethora of mistakes on Tuesday night left the Coyotes gasping for air and searching for answers. In a critical stretch of four Pacific Division games in their first five contests after the All-Star break, the beginning was far from a competitive effort. Relinquishing two leads, burned by three power-play goals and an uncharacteristic goal allowed by goalie Louis Domingue from the red line all interacted to give the Coyotes reason they still have a considerable task ahead.
Dropping a decisive 6-2 decision to the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings before 12,261 in the Gila River Arena, the mood in the dressing room was both somber and curious. Perhaps more curious, because the Coyotes are trying to figure out a way, anyway, to improve their ability to kill off penalties.
Coming into the Kings game, Arizona was 28th in the NHL in killing penalties and dead last in the league at home in this category. Like pouring gasoline on an already ranging inferno, the Coyotes allowed three more goals in seven L. A. power-play attempts. The mounting numbers only intensify a difficult situation.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” said Jordan Martinook, one of Tippett’s premier penalty killers. “Maybe we’re gripping our sticks too tight, trying to be too cute out there. I can’t pinpoint this right now. Have we lost focus? I don’t know, but we need to find some answers.”
While a goal from Anthony Duclair, only his third in his last 19 games, snapped a 1-1 tie early in the second period and created a short-lived lead, the Coyotes subsequently surrendered five, unanswered tallies and quickly fell behind the Pacific Division leaders.
For the better part of the last two months, Duclair’s offensive skills seemed to have been placed on hold. While skating a regular shift, his production, over recent weeks, was nowhere the level during the opening weeks of the campaign.
Along with Kyle Chipchura and Mikkel Boedker, players whom Tippett relies, all have but disappeared. Among several, Duclair needs to pick up his game, but, however, did show some spark. His goal at 6:40 of the second period could have been important in the Coyotes’ most significant contest to date.
Coming into Tuesday night’s play, Arizona was 10 points behind the Kings and saw a chance to close the gap. Instead, the precipice widens. Now, the Coyotes scramble for ways to move in the Pacific Division standings, but also seek and sustain a truly competitive nature. With the Sharks’ loss to Anaheim Tuesday night, the Coyotes remain three points behind San Jose in the Pacific Division. At the same time. the Ducks’ win puts Anaheim tied with the Coyotes for third place in the division with 53 points.
For the second game in succession, Domingue was pulled and with the same numbers. Dropping a 5-2 decision at Winnipeg just before the All-Star break, he was taken out by Tippett after allowing 20 shots and five goals. After allowing the same number of shots and goals Tuesday, Tippett made the move to Anders Lindback.
While Domingue put the loss on his inability to stop shots on his glove side, Tippett said after the game that four of the six goals were what he considered “soft.” Plus, Tippett pointed out, goals allowed on the short side, which Domingue allowed, should not go in the net. Still, Domingue stood in front of reporters and offered his confessional in public.
“I was pretty awful,” was the way he described his play. “I have to have a better focus into big games like these. The issue was my glove side. This one is on me. If I make more saves, we have a chance to win.”
At the same time, Domingue made a commitment to get back to the drawing board and stop the train wreck of the past two games.
“I’ve faced adversity before,” he said. “I just have to re-group, respond, and stay positive.”
Reaching a Milestone
Behind the bench Tuesday night, Tippett coached in his 1,000 NHL game. He becomes the 24th coach in NHL history to reach such a level.
Tippett is the longest tenured and winningest coach in franchise history. His record with the Phoenix/Arizona franchise stands at 241-197-70 for 552 points. Since the 2002-03 season, only Joel Quenneville, Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz have more victories as an active head coach.
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.