With the Phoenix Coyotes struggling to find wins before their road trip, their identity began fade away from the playoff picture. The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild have been picking up wins to keep ahead in the wild card race. This left the Coyotes desperate to find something during their four games away from home.
Things didn’t go the way they wanted to at the start. In fact, it seemed as if it was deja-vu all over again as they faced the Washington Capitals. Up 2-0 in the third period and seeming as if they had wrapped up the game, three goals in a span of five minutes for the Capitals crushed the hopes of the Coyotes in a 3-2 defeat.
“To win hockey games in this League, you have to pay the price to win them,” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “In the critical times of the game we don’t pay the price to win. We have that and some of the issues with taking bad penalties in the third period, and it has caught up with us.”
Against St. Louis just this past Sunday it was the same scenario. With a two goal lead their defense shut down, putting Mike Smith to work. After a quiet first two periods, Smith had to face a period high 14 shots, allowing the Capitals to succeed.
“It seemed like we stopped playing the way we played in the first and the second periods,” right win Radim Vrbata said. “When you have a 2-0 lead going into the third, you have to find a way to win, and we didn’t.”
They needed to answer quickly as they headed down south to Florida facing Tampa Bay and Florida. While one team is vying to steal a final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the other is looking to rebuild for next year. Both games went in favor of the Coyotes, but in both games Smith had faced over 30 shots. The Coyotes were also wary of how to play out these two games as Tippett had to strategize on how to use his roster.
“We tried to play fast tonight; we put some young legs in the lineup tonight and they play fast,” Tippett said after the win against Tampa Bay “We are desperate for points. You never know how that will turn out, but it turned out alright for us.”
Against Tampa Bay, Mikkel Boedker was able to net one in for the first time since January 24. A player who has been around with the Coyotes all of his career has given him a boost to play much stronger on the ice.
“That was real important for my confidence,” Boedker said. “It feels good. It was coming for me tonight and that always feels good.”
The same goes for Vrbata. In fact, he has become one of the hottest players on the team, scoring four goals in the last five games and has helped the offense remain in games.
Then things change against the top team in the Eastern Conference, facing the Boston Bruins. Its defense tightened up during the third period, but taking shots seemed nearly impossible. Nothing flowed right all game long as the Coyotes only were able to muster 22 shots in a 2-1 defeat. Now the team returns home the way they left: on the outside looking in.
“Obviously, we need more points than we got, and .500 is not what we’re looking for,” Tippett said. “We’ve got to go home and regroup.”
A chance to regroup is possible with three of their next four games at home, two of which have losing records. On Saturday they return to face Calgary, a team that has still struggled in the valley this year. A quick trip to Los Angeles, arguably one of the hottest teams in the lead, is next on their list with home games against Florida and Boston to close out the week.
These games could set the tone to the final game of the year against the Dallas Stars. If the Coyotes still trade wins and losses on their schedule, chances are the last game in Phoenix could determine their fate for the playoffs.
News and Notes
Coyotes Charities will be hosting a Telethon this Saturday at Jobing.com Arena. All of the proceeds will help provide support for the Ronald McDonald house. For anyone that would like to make a donation, call (480) 563-7825. Fans who make a $50 donation will receive a signed puck and two free tickets to the March 20 game against Florida.