Obtaining five of a possible eight points on a road trip may sound productive.
In the case of the Phoenix Coyotes, that kind of result was not quite good enough. Coming into Thursday night’s critical Western Conference game with Colorado at home, that pushed the Coyotes, for the immediate moment, out of the playoff picture.
In a race for the final two playoff spots, five Western Conference teams are separated by three points. When the Coyotes, ninth with 84 points entertain Colorado (seventh, 85 points), the see-saw will likely move in full force.
“We want one of those playoff spots,” said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, in audio made available after the Coyotes practice Wednesday. “We have to have a playoff mind-set for each game, and, at the same time, we have earn respect to be a playoff team.”
With eight games remaining, and five on home ice, the Coyotes need to take advantage of their domain in the desert. Throughout the season, Jobing.com Arena has been tepid to Phoenix, for the Coyotes are 18-13-5 for 41 points at home.
After a spectacular February, the Coyotes have won just one game in its last five at home in March, and now face the next three contests without their captain.
Late Wednesday, the NHL suspended Shane Doan for three games and levied a fine of $166,463.40, or Doan’s salary for that period of time. The penalty came as a result for a high elbow Doan landed to the head of Stars’ forward Jamie Benn during the March 20 game at Dallas.
That came at 5:54 of the second period, and landed Doan in the penalty box for a minor elbowing call. Upon further review, the NHL decided to come down hard on Doan and recognized him a repeat offender. In October 2010, Doan received a three-game suspension, and, this time, the league dealt with Doan accordingly.
“I accept the NHL’s decision and ruling," said Doan in a statement released by the club. "I am thankful that Jamie Benn was not hurt on the play. I recognize how bad it looked but there was no intent to injure him. Jamie Benn is a class act and I appreciate how he handled everything. I apologize to the NHL, my teammates and our fans for missing the next three games as we continue to fight for a playoff spot.”
That leaves the Coyotes without center Doan, whose is recognized as one of the best captains in the NHL.
One possible replacement in the middle might be Kyle Chipchura, who returned the Phoenix lineup against Dallas March 20. Chipchura missed 13 games and in his return, the center skated on 12 shifts for a total of 7 minutes, 45 seconds.
Save his role as captain, Doan’s value remains as a strong two-way player, as his penalty-killing skills are as sharp as his offensive threat. Doan remains third on the team in scoring with 47 points, 21 goals and 26 assists.
Not only will the Coyotes combat the loss of Doan but must also contend with the surging Avs. Colorado comes into this critical game having won five of its last six. The only defeat was a 1-0 overtime shootout loss to the Devils.
The Avs' recent surge has been powered by strong goaltending from Semyon Varlamov (2.58 GA), and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2.15 GA). Plus, Tippett also cited the return of forward Matt Duchene, whose emotional game tends to influence his teammates.
As is the case in most struggles for postseason positioning, the outcome is usually determined by greater determination and execution. While February was a strong month for Phoenix, the month of March has not been as productive.
As Colorado and Phoenix prepare to square off, that’s a consequence clearly on Tippett’s mind.
“We have eight games to go and need to keep a sharp mindset,” Tippett added. “Adversity is nothing new for this hockey team.”