For a team determined to reverse a miserable experience of a year ago, the Arizona Coyotes must have mis-read the calendar.
With the way to Coyotes came out Thursday night, one might suspect they were sleep-walking through the despair of a season ago. Instead, the schedule read the San Jose Sharks and a quick look at the Pacific Division standings indicated the Coyotes, Sharks and Canucks were all tied with 49 standing points at the start of play Thursday night.
Not only facing the challenge of the Sharks in the first and two critical home games against Pacific Division rivals in three days, the Coyotes’ sense of urgency was clearly missing Thursday night. After the Sharks, the division-leading Los Angeles Kings are due at Gila River Arena on Saturday, and still another opportunity to gain on the Kings and separate from the teams immediately tied.
Instead, the Coyotes seem to skate in sand, and generated only two shots on Martin Jones, the Sharks goal-tender, in the critical opening 11 minutes of play. By that time, they were down 2-0, and eventually fell, 3-1 to San Jose before 12,251 at home.
With the defeat, their fourth straight during a current seven-game home stand, the Coyotes drop to third place in the Pacific Division. With both San Jose and Vancouver winning Thursday night, each team now had 51 points and the Coyotes remain at 49 standings points.
While it is much too early to hoist a distress flag, there is something about the Coyotes game, these days, which cause alarm. The fact they have scored three goals in their last four games is concerning, but more importantly, there appears to be a mystery why Arizona was not ready to play Thursday night.
“We talked about the importance of this game, but came out flat,” said center Brad Richardson, who scored the only Arizona goal at 11:24 of the final period. “Coming in, we knew the magnitude of this game, and came away very disappointed.”
Across the Coyotes dressing room, captain Shane Doan talked about his team’s energy level. In the interview room, coach Dave Tippett stressed lack of execution. Whatever ails the Coyotes at this point, both Doan and Tippett seem correct. The Coyotes need to increase their energy level and execute.
“When you execute, you control the pace of the game,” Tippett said. “In a game like this, the pace has to be top-notch. The pace was directed by Richardson and (Jordan) Martinnook. We’re not having enough players moving at the pace needed to win hockey games.”
For whatever reason, the Coyotes’ start was as dreadful as most of their efforts from last season. Turning the puck over constantly above the face-off circles to their blue line, the Sharks took advantage and dictated, what Tippett likes to call “the pace of the game.”
With goals by Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney 3:33 apart early in the opening session, the Coyotes fell behind quickly. The combination of an early hole and failure to generate any kind of sustained offense doomed Arizona. In their last three games, the Coyotes have fallen behind in each game, and, as Doan pointed out, “we need to find a way to keep our energy level up.”
Goaltender Louis Domingue was more direct.
“We need to find a way to score the first goal of a game,” he said. “We talked about getting off to a good start. When you give up leads, like we have been doing, it’s hard to come back. Going forward, that will be especially true because teams are now fighting for playoff spots.”
If there is any saving grace, the Coyotes can redeem some of their lost character Saturday. That’s when the L. A. Kings skate into the desert and, yet, another opportunity for the Coyotes to show their mettle.
Before the game, Doan was cited for becoming the franchise all-time goal scorer.
Among gifts presented was a check of $100,000 from the Coyotes for Doan’s support of the Arizona Youth Hockey Fund.
Playing in his 1,431st game Thursday night, Doan tied Luc Robitaille and Scott Melanby for 26th place on the NHL all-time list of games played. During the game, Doan picked up an assist on Richardson’s goal, and is now six points away from tying Dale Hawerchuk (929) for the franchise record in scoring points. In his last 10 home games, Doan has eight goals and four assists for 12 points.