As Playoff Contenders, the Phoenix Coyotes Must Address Early Defensive Lapses

Mark BrownContributor IJanuary 22, 2013

Keith Yandle, and the Phoenix defense, need to improve and set up their collective game.
Keith Yandle, and the Phoenix defense, need to improve and set up their collective game.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If the opening two games are any indication, the Phoenix Coyotes could be in for a struggle.

In fact, the opening curtain for this season could be best described as an anathema. That’s because the Coyotes enter the season with such glorious expectations and celebrated hopes.

Yet, reality has abruptly knocked on its door. In dropping their initial two contests, the Coyotes are in an unfamiliar position, and they need to correct matters in a hurry.

Turnovers, poor execution, spotty goaltender and defensive lapses have interacted to place these Desert Dogs in a precarious situation.

The Coyotes have allowed 10 goals. While they have scored seven, coach Dave Tippett said after a 6-4 defeat to Chicago Sunday night that his team cannot depend on scoring to win.

Hinting that a dependency on offense is a recipe for disaster, Tippett told reporters, “right now, there’s lots of blame to go around.” The Coyotes’ start is regarded as uncharacteristic for a team which prides itself in defense.

Yet, scoring in the first two games remains a surprise indicator that this team can put the puck in the net. Now, the defense and goalie Mike Smith need to limit opposing opportunities and create the kind of iron-clad defense players talked about last week during training camp.

“We have to better up front,” Tippett pointed out. “(Against Chicago), we allowed too may breakaways and that’s not the way to play.”

Going forward, this team is too smart not to gain energy and education from last season’s playoff run. Plus, captain Shane Doan refers to the day when the Coyotes “will lift the banner.” The obvious reference is a year residence for the Stanley Cup in the desert.

At this point, that is as unlikely as a raging blizzard among the palm tress and cacti.

For the Coyotes to right their ship and play for playoff positioning, a few things need to happen and happen immediately.

First and perhaps foremost, players need to stop referencing last season’s Stanley Cup run and recognize the time is new. Sure, there’s always reflection on past achievement, but as Smith said after the Chicago defeat: “What’s happening is not acceptable.”

Because this team will not be among the leaders in scoring, the defenseman and Smith, the hope between the pipes, will likely carry fortunes. Once players come to this realization, and its collective concentration level is heightened, issues can then be firmly addressed.

For the Coyotes to remain competitive among Western Conference teams, the defense needs to step up its game. One glaring consequence in the opening two losses is the Coyotes’ abandonment of the slot area.

The Blackhawks scored several goals, including two within 50 seconds late in the second period, and directly in front of Smith. While he said, the reality is “to bail out my teammates” in times of distress, Smith also surrendered a “soft goal” 14 seconds into the third period. Here, he failed to cover the short side and Marion Hossa managed to slip the puck just between Smith’s left pad and the post.

While honorable in coming to the aid of his teammates, Smith must also step up this game and continue the stellar play from last season. Without his strong effort, the season will be another footnote to the past failures in the desert.

The Coyotes will not survive high-scoring games, period. In the end, their defense and goal tending will likely dictate just how far this team will go.

To their benefit, the season has only just began, so there is time to gather thoughts and improve execution.

If glaring issues are not promptly addressed, and given the competitive nature of the NHL overall and the Western Conference in particular, the Coyotes’ sense of destiny will likely be derailed


Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.


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