Two consecutive wins over quality teams does not a season make.
The 3-1 win against Detroit, while gratifying, raises questions that have plagued the Coyotes all season. Several issues remain to be conquered, and these take no special order.
To gain the victory over the Red Wings, forward Boyd Gordon scored shorthanded while Martin Hanzal, on the power play and into an empty net, picked up his third goal in as many games. Still, the bottom line is to raise the level of play and reach a higher plateau than tied for ninth with Dallas in the Western Conference.
“We need to recognize what’s at stake and have to string several wins together,” said coach Dave Tippett after the Detroit win on Feb. 6th. “In the last two games, they’ve showed a sense of urgency and that’s what we’ll need to be a playoff team.”
In beating the Red Wings, Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith earned his 20th win of the season, and, with each victory, he builds on a career mark. Previously, his best NHL season was a 14-win season with the Lightning during the 2008-09 campaign.
On his next start for Phoenix, the 29-year-old from Kingston, Ont. will tie his career mark in games played with 42, and the Coyotes still have two months left.
If Smith is to be the catalyst in this playoff run, he will take on more minutes and more pressure situations than he's faced previously. With 31 games remaining, Smith said there’s no issue with durability, and he’s ready to face the playoff challenge.
“I feel great. And, as athletes, we train all summer to thrive in these opportunities,” he said after posting his 20th win of the season over the Red Wings. “This is where we make our money and it’s no time to be tired.”
In what many believed was his best game of the season, Smith stopped 30 of 31 Detroit shots, and many came from close range. The Wings only tally came on the power play when Johan Franzen poked in a goal-mouth scramble late in the second period.
From there, Smith took control, and the defense kept the slot clear.
In the meantime, Hanzal’s power play goal early in the second period created a 2-0 lead but also addressed another critical issue.
Coming into the Detroit game, the Coyotes were last in power play efficiency. The lack of production on the man advantage remains a constant problem gnawing at the team’s collective soul.
“For the power play to operate effectively, three things have to happen,” Tippett added. “First, there has to be the work ethic, then execute and the ability to finish. What’s missing is our ability to finish. Ultimately, you have to score.”
Still, the back-to-back wins over the Sharks and Wings show what a collective “sense of urgency” means. Going forward, the Coyotes need to keep that intensity at a high level and recognize the sands are slowly shifting through the hourglass.
“Sure, these are great, quality wins, but we have to keep the ball rolling,” said Gordon, whose shorthanded goal at 7:22 of the opening period against Detroit gave the Coyotes a lead they did not relinquish. “With each game, we have to be better and have a higher sense of urgency.”
The win over Detroit gives the Coyotes 56 points and ties them with Dallas for ninth place in the West, going into a contest with the Stars on Feb. 7th.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Quotes in this story were obtained by the author during postgame interviews on Feb. 6th, 2012, Detroit at Phoenix.