There aren’t really many amusement parks around Maricopa County. But if you head to Glendale, a new attraction is being built inside the newly named Gila River Arena. The Arizona Coyotes seem to be taking tickets for their new ride: The Heart Stopper.
One minute, you see a team that cannot find a way to play a full sixty minute hockey game. They have played games filled with disastrous plays on defense, a lack of solid shots on goal, and exhausted lines even after day breaks. Most recently, a blustery bravado display against the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, two teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, had the Coyotes wonder if this would be the 2013-2014 season all over again. They seemed to be back at a free fall.
“Our execution still has to improve if we’re going to create more chances to score,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said after a loss to the Florida Panthers. “We lost on a bad break. Good blocked shot and guy happened to be stepping out of the box. The breaks go against you sometimes. Lots of try, not a lot of finish in our game.”
Two games later, something seemed to click. This time, facing the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs, the team seemed to do a 180 on themselves. A solid performance against the Capitals produced six goals, half coming in the third period. New Coyote Sam Gagner got involved to spark a rally in that period, and Shane Doan managed two goals himself in a 6-5 victory The victory over Toronto proved as well its defense had started to hold its own, only allowing four shots through the first 28 minutes. A 3-2 win brought some hopes up, but the pain has not subsided just yet.
“You play the right way and you deserve to win games, and we deserved to win,” coyotes goalie Mike Smith said, who currently has a 3-6-0 record in front of the net. We talked about what we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win. We did that for a more consistent time and we earned some bounces.”
All of last season the Coyotes were playing at the exact same level. In fact, most of their successful seasons saw wins and losses come in spurts. At one point during their conference final season back in 2012, they saw themselves atop the Western Conference. A weak showing near the end of the season dropped them to third but clinched them a Pacific Division title regardless.
Times are much different now, and with how last season turned out, the Coyotes cannot afford to ride that same roller coaster again. The team knows how capable they are, and with the opponents they have seen and beaten, the opportunities are there.
It certainly helps now to get your new prospect involved too.
“I feel like I’m getting chances,” Gagner said. “It’s just a matter of continuing to get to the net, and I felt like I did a better job of that (Sunday). Obviously, I was brought in here for a reason and I want to contribute offensively and help this team win games, and it was nice to be able to do that.”
Tippett though always has in the back of his mind that a complete hockey game is where this team needs to be. Where “if you give up two goals, the other team has a chance. If you give up five…” well, you better pray that your offense is playing much better.
And this season, there have been signs that it has been there. Solid wins against the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers did bring out the best, but consistency has been their main problem. Lucy for the Coyotes, they don’t step on the ice again until Friday against the Anaheim Ducks. A team that will come well rested, and trying to carry a solid preseason performance against the teams from Southern California, can maybe continue to let the ride go up.
“We are starting to get the puck in deep and hold on to it,” Smith said. “We didn’t throw it away [against Toronto], and it turned into chances and goals. I hope we learned a lot from those. It shows drastically what we need to do.”
News and Notes
The Coyotes have been flexing with their AHL affiliate Portland Pirates and called up Brandon Gormley. Gormley saw action on Tuesday and played just under 10 minutes on the ice.
“Some players jump right in and others it takes a while,” Gormley said. “There’s lots of great defensemen here, and it’s almost a good thing they don’t have to rush you. But at the same time, I feel I’m ready to go now and I’ve just got to prove that.”