In the way the current hockey campaign unfolded for the Arizona Coyotes, this team quickly fell on life support. Rapidly, separation from both the Western Conference and the Pacific Division was swift and precipitous.
By the Christmas break, the Coyotes sported a 11-19-5 and in the middle of a nine-game losing streak. By the time they snapped out of that malaise with a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Jan. 7, the Coyotes had a 12-22-6 mark. That marked Arizona on the way to their fourth straight losing season and out of the Stanley Cup playoffs since the 2011-12 season.
Only the Colorado Avs continue to have a worse record. That’s no consolation for a team in a free-fall for most of the winter. Now, reasons are defined for such an experience and the team, collectively, can look no further than Arizona’s 5-4 victory over the visiting New Jersey Devils before a spare home crowd of 11,223 in Gila River Arena.
In this game, the Coyotes jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the second period and then, as coach Dave Tippett told The Hockey Writers, “we let them back in.”
Maybe the Coyotes reached a comfort zone with such an advantage. Perhaps this was unchartered waters for a team which has not enjoyed the fruits of any substantial lead in any game for most of this season.
The Need to Finish Strongly
“Look, a win is a win but we should have put them away earlier,” Tobias Rieder told The Hockey Writers. “We felt too comfortable with the lead and that’s something we need to address.”
That echoed Tippett’s observation when the coach identified two essential elements of gaining control of the play and then leading to success, Like assembling parts of a puzzle, winning small battles in confined areas leads to victories in larger areas.
“We need to protect the puck better and protect the lead,” Tippett told The Hockey Writers. “Our players need to recognize the situation and manage a response.”
In the final minutes of play, the Coyotes experienced a melt-down and allowed the Devils to creep within one on Beau Bennett’s back-hander in front at 12:09 of the final period. Then, the Coyotes’ survival mode turned ugly. That’s when defenseman Luke Schenn hooked Taylor Hall from behind and in front of the Arizona net. A penalty shot was called with 2:38 remaining in the game, but Hall then shot into goalie Mike Smith’s pads and the victory was preserved.
The Schenn mistake was one of several throughout the night and Coyote leads melted faster than an ice cream cone in the searing Arizona desert.
“I’ve faced Hall many times (when Hall was with the Edmonton Oilers), and I had an idea what he might go,” Smith told The Hockey Writers. “In that situation, you want the shooter to make his move first. But, we got the win, and it wasn’t pretty”
Any time a team transitions into survival mode is not very positive. For the Coyotes, they have 15 games remaining on their schedule and that’s just a moment in the course of a hockey season. There still may be enough time so they can detect slight movement on their life support monitor.
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.