On Saturday night, the Arizona Coyotes did just about everything right but win a hockey game. Goalie Mike Smith was lights-out, the penalty killing was outstanding and the Coyotes came-from-behind to earn a lead late in the game.
If Arizona was able to do things to grab an advantage, the missing component in this 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus before 11,287 in Gila River Arena was playing with a lead.
Considering the defense clearly left Smith battling for this life in goal, this outcome should have been different. For his part, Smith faced 60 shots, and recorded 58 saves. Both are a career and Winnipeg/Phoenix/Arizona franchise records. The 60 shots on goal was also the most allowed in any game this season in the NHL.
Playing With A Lead
In trying to protect a one-goal late, Smith made strong saves on legitimate scoring chances from David Savard, Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson and Zack Werenski in the final minutes. Only when Saad knocked Connor Murphy off the puck in the Coyotes’ left corner and delivered a centering pass in which Alexander Wennberg converted into his sixth goal of the season 2:16 left in the third period to tie did the Coyotes fully realize their inability to hold teams off the scoreboard during critical times.
The loss was the third straight for the Coyotes and second defeat in either overtime or a shootout in their last three games.
“At some point, you’d like to see your team step forward,” Smith told The Hockey Writers. “Instead, we’re taking a step back. You can’t win if things go in that direction.”
Since returning from an injured knee Nov. 16 at Calgary, Smith faced at least 33 shots in each of the six starts. In another one start against Vancouver Nov. 23, he allowed four goals on 17 shots and was pulled after 26:49 in net. While the Coyotes’ defense has been porous, Smith’s ability to keep his team in any game has been nothing short of miraculous.
“For the past two weeks, (Smith) has been in a zone,” said captain Shane Doan. “He’s the only reason why we are remotely in these games.”
As with recent opponents, the Blue Jackets tilted the rink and broke out of the gate quickly. That’s when the Jackets’ Boone Jenner scored just 13 seconds into this one. Back on their heels, the deficit caused Arizona coach Dave Tippett to observe, “they pushed hard from the start, and we didn’t push back.”
The mission ahead would seem to cut back and cut down on opponent’s shots on goal. The fact the Coyotes are giving up over 40 shots per game in recent days is enough of a concern.
Now, the Coyotes need to find a way to both play with a lead and limit opponents’ chances. Given gaps in the defense and the inability to swiftly get the puck into the neutral zone, these factors appear more than sufficient to keep Tippett wide awake at night.
For The Record Book
When Doan tipped in Michael Stone’s shot from the right point mid-way through the second period, the 40-year-old captain picked up his 399th career NHL goal. When he scores the next one, Doan will become the 93rd player in NHL history to reach 400 goals.
Also, his appearance in Saturday’s game against Columbus passed Wayne Gretzky into 19th place all-time in games played. Doan has played in 1,487 contests. Next is Phil Housley with 1,495 games played. As well, Doan is one of nine players in NHL history to play at least 21 seasons all with the same franchise.
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.