Here’s where the pride factor comes into play.
In a lost season which is quickly disappearing from their radar screen, about the only element left in this challenging season for the Arizona Coyotes is find some kind of purpose.
With their 4-2 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning before 12,997 Saturday night in Gila River Arena, the Coyotes appear to sink further into the distance. In a season in which hope is lost and professionalism becomes the prime motivational element, the Coyotes continue to struggle to find reason in their game.
The defeat Saturday was their fifth in a row, and the Coyotes have now dropped seven of their last eight games. They have not won a home game in regulation since Jan. 8 and that was a 4-1 victory over the Jets. As well, the Coyotes have won two in a row at home only twice this season and through Feb. 21 have lost eight straight at home.
With the loss to the Bolts Saturday, Arizona is now 20-32-7, 47 points in 59 game and only the Oilers and Sabres have worse records.
“We put ourselves in this position,” said defenseman Michael Stone, who placed the Coyotes on the scoreboard with his third goal of the season at 14:02 of the opening period. “What keeps me going in just playing in the NHL. There’s no other place I’d be now. Look, we have a close knit team and it’s tough on all of us.”
Yet, fortunes this season continue to reinvent themselves.
“We had opportunities (against Tampa Bay) to tie the game and obviously we didn’t do it,” lamented captain Shane Doan. “So it doesn’t really matter how it happened. We had another loss and we’ve to find a way to focus on the next one.”
If a change in personnel is any indication, the plans for the future began some weeks ago. That’s when general manager Don Maloney created a near-revolving door with Arizona’s AHL Portland Pirates and began a shuttle between Maine and Arizona.
In time, players like defensemen Brandon Gormley and Andrew Campbell along with forwards Lucas Lessio, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder and newly acquired Mark Arcobello seem to prime the franchise for the future. Include goaltenders Mike McKenna and Louis Domingue in the mix and that should be enough to place the franchise in transition.
“With the younger players, there’s a great deal of teaching,” said Arizona coach Dave Tippett. “There’s constant evaluation of the younger players, but what we’re going through is tough on the veteran players.”
Considering the difficulty of the season on the scoreboard, the future of several players remain outstanding. That’s because of the looming March 2 trade deadline and, already, veteran players like Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette, are attracting attention.
For a team hitting rock-bottom, it’s difficult to see where the motivation starts and apathy develops.
“It’s been a challenging season,” Doan added. “You get to play in the NHL and I don’t think you need more motivation than that. You’re in the NHL, it’s the greatest league in the world and get to play against the best players int he world. You better be motivated.”
Now, the Coyotes head out of the desert on their next-to-last Eastern trip of the season. This time, it’s off to downtown Newark and a date with the Devils, over to the island and a meeting with the Islanders, back into Manhattan to Madison Square Garden against the Rangers and finishing in Boston on Feb. 28.
Expectation for the up-coming trip seems like a broken record of the past.
“I hope we play well,” Tippett said in a matter-of-fact manner. “We want to play hard and play with pride. Plus, I would like to see the younger players continue to grow.”
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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.