Phoenix Coyotes Face Roadblocks as NHL Playoff Contenders

Mark BrownContributor IJanuary 5, 2012

Coyotes need to score more and put less pressure on goalie Mike Smith
Coyotes need to score more and put less pressure on goalie Mike SmithDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

With the NHL nearing its All-Star break, several teams have already reached the halfway point of their schedule.

That would mean the second half is about to commence and with that, positioning for postseason playoff spots.

Before some teams can actually worry about standings and how they would finish, they must navigate for playoff positioning.

Case in the point: the Phoenix Coyotes.

Having missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for seven straight years, the Desert Dogs finally qualified for postseason play in 2010 and then again in 2011. The prospect of gaining a third consecutive playoff spot, at this point, appears more challenging.

Two main factors seem to be considerable roadblocks.

First, the Coyotes lack a sniper and a shooter who can terrify goalies and rattle defensemen with speed, skills and accuracy. Plus—and probably more important—the Coyotes need to find ways to win at home.

Currently, Phoenix is in the middle of seven of eight games on the road, but they were 1-5-0 in home games from Dec. 3 through Dec, 28. Overall, their losing record at home of 7-9-2 is 13th in the NHL’s Western Conference.

Clearly, a trend which is disturbing to Dave Tippett, the Phoenix coach.

“We need to change something at home,” Tippett said after the Coyotes dropped a 3-2 decision to the Blues at Arena on Dec. 23. “Something has to be done."

One change was the morning skate venue on game day.

Beginning with a home game against the defending Stanley Cup champions Boston Bruins on December 28th, Tippett switched the venue from the Coyotes practice rink in Scottsdale to Arena.

That’s a distance of about 25 miles and reason why he had the previous site in Scottsdale was a closer proximity to the players’ residence.

Many players reside in the fashionable Scottsdale area, and commute to Arena mainly on game nights. The change did not help for the Coyotes dropped that one, 3-2, as well.

Now, they are home for only one game in eight, and it’s this Saturday, January 7th against the New York Islanders.

Still, the Coyotes need to exhibit more energy, a greater sense of purpose on home ice and score first.

When the opposition nets the first goal of a game, the Coyotes were 3-14 after the recent Bruins game. So far this season, this is not a productive come-from-behind team: Either they must learn quickly to play catch-up or dominate the opposition for an entire 60 minutes of play.

You don’t want to give up a goal early when you’re trying to feel good about yourself, said goalie Jason LaBarbera, who filled in for the injured Mike Smith in late December games. It’s a matter of buckling down and just getting back to who you are and remembering what got you there.

LaBarbera referred to the goal by the Bruins’ David Krejci just 47 seconds into the Boston game. That forced the Coyotes to—once again—come from behind and they eventually lost 3-2 in overtime.

For now, they will have to wait a while to improve at home.

After the Islanders game in the desert, the Coyotes hit the road again for games against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and at Detroit and at Columbus.

Beginning with a matinee on Martin Luther King Day at home against Colorado January 16th, the Coyotes will host a stretch of seven games out of eight at Arena. When Phoenix completes this series—ending with the Red Wings February 6th—we should have a fairly good idea of whether the Coyotes are ready, and indeed capable of making a playoff run.



EDITOR’S NOTE - Quotes in this story were obtained by the author in post-game interviews following the St. Louis at Phoenix, December 23rd, 2011 and Boston at Phoenix, December 28th, 2011 games.