The Arizona Coyotes were back in action just one night after taking the Boston Bruins wire-to-wire, matched up against a Buffalo Sabres team that wasn’t even sure it would play after a number of positive COVID-19 tests earlier in the day.
Shorthanded or not, the Sabres had little trouble handing the Coyotes their fifth straight loss.
Aided by a near-flawless performance from 40-year-old goalie Craig Anderson, who was appearing in just his seventh game this season (and first since Nov. 2), the Sabres rolled to a 3-1 win over the Coyotes on Saturday night at Gila River Arena. The loss was especially disappointing after a solid team effort against the Bruins just one night earlier.
Here’s what we learned.
Coyotes Strong Early, But Fizzled Out Quickly
The Coyotes had some jump in their step in the opening moments of Saturday’s game, but that evaporated rather quickly after Lawson Crouse was called for hooking 5:29 into the first.
The Sabres capitalized with the man advantage, snagging the game’s first goal while snuffing out any early-game momentum the Coyotes had established. Arizona actually had a power-play opportunity of its own just a few minutes after falling behind, but was unable to convert, and finished the night 1-for-2 after scoring late in the third to make it 3-1.
The Coyotes have now allowed a power-play goal in four straight games, and seven of their last eight.
“That’s something that we’re focusing on a lot, and special teams is a big part of today’s game,” Crouse said. “You take a look at the scores around the league, and special teams is kind of where those games are won, so we’re aware of the situation on the PK, and we’re out there doing our best … Sometimes there’s a couple collapses, but we just have to stay on top of it and be willing to learn — and learn from our mistakes.”
Coyotes coach André Tourigny didn’t mince words when asked where the team’s problems were on Saturday, responding, “Seriously, everything.” Still, he said he isn’t overly concerned about the recent lapses carrying over into future games.
“Our guys are, every day, working really hard, practice and games,” he said. “Today was not the same urgency, we’re sour, we’re frustrated — I am — but is it something we need to talk about when it happens once in a blue moon? I don’t think so.”
If anything, he expects the players will challenge themselves to step up without any assistance from the coaching staff.
“Those guys are really good pros, and there’s really good leadership in the room,” Tourigny said. “They know the answer, and they don’t need the ‘Bear’ to tell them what happened. They know.”
Christian Fischer Celebrates Team & Career Milestone
Forward Christian Fischer played in his 300th career NHL game on Saturday, and every one has been with the Coyotes. He made his NHL debut with Arizona in 2016-17, and has since chipped in an even-keel 41 goals and 40 assists in his career. His best season came in 2017-18 when he put up 33 points in 79 games, and has three goals and four assists in 35 games this season.
With a roster that has experienced so much turnover, Fischer said he prides himself in his locker room presence, and tries to be a leader both on the ice and in the clubhouse.
“You can’t start going negative, and start yelling at people, and going down that road,” he said. “This season could be really, really bad if we go down that way and start feeling bad for ourselves. We’ve got to come together in that locker room, and grind out a win.”
Tourigny agreed, and mentioned just how much he appreciates Fischer’s contributions.
“He’s really vocal,” Tourigny said. “He’s a guy who has a lot of energy every day, he’s a positive guy, he’s a guy who loves his teammates, he’s a guy that loves the game, he loves to show up at the rink, and there’s no bad days.
“When you go through a stretch like we are, you need those kind of guys.”
The Coyotes Need to Regroup and Stop the Bleeding
As mentioned earlier, Arizona has lost five straight, with more than one of those coming after holding leads against good teams on the road. It’s likely going to take a bit of soul searching to ensure each player remains focused, upbeat, and determined.
“We all say the confidence and the mental part are the most important part of the games,” Tourigny said. “I want to believe our guys know when they do good things, and right now we’re kind of in a slump, we need to bounce back, and we have a tough schedule ahead of us, two very good teams.”
Speaking of which, the Coyotes now head to Colorado on Tuesday before returning home the very next night for a home game against the Calgary Flames, so the club will face a similar situation to this weekend’s back-to-back slate. Step one for next week’s game in Denver? Get back to basics.
“I think everyone’s kind of comfortable under [Tourigny] now, and there shouldn’t be any questions when it comes down to that type of stuff, so I think that’s why we’re starting to play better, and do better things, but it’s tough to even say anything positive,” Fischer said. “Like you said, it’s five in a row. We play to win, not to play good.”
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.