When you’re sitting near the bottom of the NHL standings and your journey to the precipice of playoff contention remains uneasy at best, you better come to play every night.
Winners in four of the last five and on a mini-roll, the Arizona Coyotes went against that creed and failed to show up for a critical game against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday night. Their collective ineptitude clearly caught to ire of coach Dave Tippett, who was uncharacteristically stoic in his post-game comments.
Though Tippett would not go as far as to say the 6-0 loss to the Blues before a spare crowd of 10, 876 in the Gila River Arena was the worst of the season, he seem to hint the Coyotes hit rock bottom.
“We just didn’t play well,” he said in what so far is the understatement of this forgotten hockey season. “I could have pulled (goalie Mike Smith) when it was 4-0 but this was not a goaltender situation. This is a look-in-the-mirror issue and you can’t play like that. That’s garbage.”
Name an aspect of the game and the Coyotes sunk out the joint.
Let’s begin with special teams.
The Blues went 3-for-5 with the man advantage and St. Louis captain David Backus popped in two power play goals with 1:06 of the second period. For the night, Backes scored four goals and while not reaching the club mark of six in one game turned in by Red Berenson against the Flyers in the old Spectrum on Nov. 7, 1968, the Coyotes in ability to shut down the opposition was apparent.
lack of penalty-killing is killing the Coyotes
Coming into the game, Arizona was 28th in the league (75.2 percent) in penalty killing and last at home in this category. Coupled with the Blues sitting as the best road team in the NHL on the power play, that was a recipe for disaster.
“We have to stay out of the box,” lamented defenseman Keith Yandle. “We didn’t play they way we wanted and just have to be much better. It all comes down to play we need to play.”
That was not the case Tuesday night and Tippett directly pointed a finger at his team. Realizing the Blues are sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference but winners in just two of their last eight games, the Tippett’s clarion call did not reach the ears or souls of his players.
“We challenged our players to go out and play a strong game against a very good team,” the coach said. “They did not do that and that’s disappointing.”
At this point of the season, the Coyotes appear wandering amid the NHL landscape. Captain Shane Doan continues to tell reporters, and who ever wants to listen, “we have to find ways to win,” but the team seems to be skating in quick-sand.
Despite a favorable current home schedule for the next 10 days and an better than average road record, the Coyotes continue to say the right things but stumble on the ice. Tippett seems at a loss and has tried changing lines, switching goal keepers, inter-changing defensemen and nothing seems to work.
Players will explain there is still one-half a season remaining and far too early for raise any white flag. Yet, this team continues to raise questions and those issues remain unanswered.
At this point, they may be shining up those golf clubs because their season appears ending in mid-April. That’s about the same time as the past two seasons came to a close and again on target for mid-April curtain call.
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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.