For Phoenix to remain in playoff contention, Mike Smith must continue to play well.
One malady was enough, but at this point of the hockey season, back-to-back clunkers does not sit well.
After a historic February of losing only one game in 12 contests—and that was a shootout—the Phoenix Coyotes hit a roadblock in their first two games of March.
Falling behind Calgary 3-0 and Columbus 2-0, both at home, these heights were too steep. In eventually dropping these two games, the Coyotes demonstrated the need for a solid 60 minutes of hockey and to execute with greater intensity.
Instead of solidifying playoff positioning, the Coyotes proved mere mortals.
Coming into play Sunday, March 4, three points separated the first place Coyotes and the fourth place Kings in the NHL’s Pacific Division. More importantly, the Coyotes, with 75 standing points, cling to third place overall in the Western Conference, but only because of its division lead.
Just behind on the playoff bubble are the Kings with 72, Colorado with 70 and Calgary with 69.
The Coyotes embark on a two-game road trip to Pittsburgh March 5 and Columbus March 7, and, if they get behind in these games, the road back could be difficult.
“We’ve come from behind too many times this season,” said captain Shane Dona, after dropping a 4-2 decision at home to Calgary March 1. “If you do this too many times, you will get burned.”
As if the Coyotes did not learn their lesson after the Flames defeat, they appeared to skate in sand two nights later.
Facing Columbus, who is out of the playoff picture, the Coyotes fell into the same trap of mistakes, and surrendered two goals to Rich Nash late in the first period and early in the second. Nash’s first was shorthanded, and the second shorthanded goal in as many games.
Though goals from Ray Whitney and Lauri Korpikoski tied the game, the Coyotes gave up third period goals to Nikita Niklin and Derek Brassard to seal their doom.
“We’re spending too much time in the neutral zone and not generating enough offense,” said Korpikoski, who scored for the first time since he netted two Feb. 4 against San Jose. “We did not play well at home the last two games, so going on the road might not be a bad thing.”
Going forward, the schedule may not be all that favorable.
Beginning with the game in Pittsburgh March 5, the Coyotes play six of its next nine on the road. While players and coaches explain all games, from this point, are huge, Phoenix does have three left with division rival San Jose, including two at home.
Regarding the 5-2 loss to Columbus, and a reference to the Calgary defeat two nights earlier, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett told reporters the obvious.
“Right now, we’re just not good enough,” he said after the Columbus defeat. “You make mistakes, they come back to bite you. We’re not pushing the envelope, and that has to change.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Quotes in this story were obtained by the author after Calgary and Phoenix and Columbus at Phoenix games of March 1, 2012 and March 3, 2012.