While so many teams are fighting to be one of the final teams standing come April, there are others who are doing whatever it takes to become those teams. Arizona has slowly fallen off from becoming that part of the conversation, but even with the losses piling up, there is a little sense of optimism while being away from home during their Super Bowl road trip.
Take for example coming into January being one of two teams to not win a game when trailing after two periods. In the last two weeks the Coyotes were able to pick up two wins, most impressively a 3-2 win over Montreal which was surrounded by pure luck.
“Even down 2-1 our guys were feeling pretty good,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “They all said they had their way in the third, and they responded very well in the best way and pushed the game right along.”
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson stole a clearing puck from the far end board and was looking for Antoine Vermette behind the goal. Instead Dustin Tokarsi was caught napping and allowed the puck to sneak through less than a minute into the third to tie the game. Lauri Korpikoski sealed the deal in one of the strangest ways, trying to set up a one timer pass across the ice. Instead, Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin tries to be the hero and slides in front of the puck, which allows to go off his heel, hit the noggin of Tokarsi and fall right behind him.
Hey, a win is a win right? And beating a team that is second in the Eastern Conference is a big deal.
“That second goal just went in my favor,” Korpikoski said. “The puck went off the D and somehow went in the net. It’s a funky goal, but I’ll definitely take those any day.”
That win though has kind of put a bright note on what had been an abysmal January. Even with finishing the week 2-1-1 with impressive wins over Montreal and Toronto during their Canadian tour, prior to those games they were 0-5-2, and in the process getting rid of Devan Dubnyk has sent a message to the entire team that almost everyone will become trade bait. Well, everyone except for Shane Doan. And this is the message that new majority owner Andrew Barroway is sending loud and clear.
“It’s very clear, his thoughts on the team, where Barroway wants to take this team, how we grow this team, the timeline it’s going to take, the patience that’s going to be necessary to do things right,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.
But hey, getting rid of Dubnyk has somehow awoken the team in a good way. Even with so many lopsided losses, the Coyotes have outshot their opponents in six of their last nine games. The chances are there, but they seem to be missing something big in order to start becoming a contender, currently down 15 points for the final wild card spot.
“I would rather be on the front end of taking shots all the time,” Tippett said. “The Ottawa game we did not play very well obviously, but that does not mean we have competed hard. Regardless, we always want to continue playing that way.”
Before the Coyotes were usually one of the quiet ones heading into the trade deadline. And usually you would never see a team so far down to try and make a lot of noise. Put it this way, even with how bad the month had been, the Coyotes had let go of a lot of chances with so many teams ahead of them playing nearly as bad. To be down by this much is a fortunate thing, and with some slow improved play Maloney isn’t afraid to take chances anymore. Maybe addressing the goalie situation now would be too soon, and rebuilding the team is necessary long term. But with how aggressive the team plans to be before mid-February, it will be interesting to see if they will be treated lightly.
“It was like, ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just try and eke out whatever we can eke out and try to get to the playoffs,'” Maloney said. “Now what’s happened with Andy and the ownership group is, ‘Let’s take a step back. Let’s take the long-term view. How do we get to the place where the L.A. Kings are, or the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks?’ A lot of that is being a little more patient; we’re going to have to work some younger people into our system.”