One look and the calendar shows Halloween is approaching.
Because their start of the NHL season is a bit scary, that may be particularly scary for the Arizona Coyotes
Despite a 2-1 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers before 13,202 Saturday night in Gila River Arena, the Coyotes’ train express may be derailed. That’s because the offense has been nearly non-existent, especially in home games.
Of the five games played in the desert, the Coyotes have managed two or less goals in three of these games. Of the other two, they scored three in an overtime win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and seven, including an empty net, against the Oilers.
Among Western Conference teams, only St. Louis and Winnipeg have scored fewer goals.
All of which emphasizes a concern two weeks into the season, but a concern which can not be overcome.
In assessing the opening two weeks of the season, coach Dave Tippett was the first to admit the lack of offense is troubling.
“Our special teams have played well but we’re looking for the offensive game to come around,” he said after Saturday’s win over the Panthers. “Our special teams have been good and, right now, the power play has generated a great deal of the offense. We need to score more with the five-on-five situation.”
Through the opening seven games, two players which Tippett and Don Maloney, the team’s general manager, look to generate offense are off the score sheet. Combined, captain Shane Doan and center Sam Gagner have zero goals. Remaining at the center of any Coyotes’ conversation, the goal is team-oriented. Scoring goals is secondary is the team consensus.
A prime example is the game-winner against the Panthers.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his second, OT game-winner but was set up by Gagner.
“(Keith Yandle) gave me a good pass down low and I wanted to shoot,” he said. “In the corner of my eye, I saw (Ekman-Larsson) in a good position in front so I fed him the puck.”
The assist by Gagner was his first point of the season but the native of London, Ont. put on his best Alfred E. Newman face. Nah, he shook his head, “what he worry?”
“I just want to make the right play,” he said. “I think if you are too aggressive, you tend to make the wrong play and hurt your teammates. I want to play smart and help this team win.”
During training camp, Doan told reporters he has a 30-goal season on his radar screen, but so far, he’s o-for-his-first-seven games. While the captain has four assists, second on the team to Yandle’s seven through Saturday’s games, Doan said there is no doubt regarding his future.
“So far, two guys are not showing much,” he smiled with a reference to himself and Gagner. “Look, it’s still early and opportunities will come. Pretty soon, they’ll start to go in.”
his first in his first NHL game
If Gagner and Doan are waiting the ignite the red light, rookie Justin Hodgman is one step ahead.
With the Coyotes down 1-0 mid-way through the third period Saturday, the Panthers’ winger Sean Bergenheim was called for tripping. On the power play, Hodgman banged in a rebound off a shot from Yandle and that represented the Coyotes’ seven power play goal. Ekman-Larsson’s game-winner was also with the man-advantage and coming into the Florida game, Arizona was tied for third in the NHL in power play efficiency.
“Oh man, I don’t know how to describe the feeling,” Hodgman said into a ticket of notebooks and microphones. “I’m sure I’ve got a bunch of phone calls to make and a bunch of text messages.”
Hodgman spent the last two seasons playing in Russia and last played in North America for the AHL Toronto Marlies. Signed to a free agent contract with Arizona, Hodgman made the final roster cut was but sent to AHL Portland Oct. 12. On Friday, the Coyotes recalled the native of Brampton, Ont. and Tippett did not hesitate to throw Hodgman out on a critical power play in his first NHL game.
“You play the game to be an NHL player and score an NHL goal,” Tippett said. “To get that one in your first game is pretty special.”
on the road again
After a short one-game home stand, the Coyotes hit the road for games at Tampa Bay, south Florida with the Panthers, at Carolina and at Washington. They return to home to face the Leafs on Tuesday Nov. 4.
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.