The Coyotes need to play better in the slot. Here, Zbynek Michalek tries to clear the Kings' Justin Williams in front.
The Phoenix Coyotes have a short memory.
Having lost in the Western Conference Finals last spring to the Los Angeles Kings, the two teams renewed their growing rivalry Saturday on the Coyotes' home rink. That was the venue last May where L.A. took out Phoenix in five games and ended the Coyotes' most successful season in franchise history.
Collectively on Saturday night, the teams maintained the emotion and raised the energy level to a postseason expectation.
As transpired last spring, the Kings were superior again and came away with a 4-2 win Saturday. This was a game that continued to magnify the Coyotes’ early-season failures.
A continued weakness in the slot left goaltender Jason LaBarbera vulnerable and the Kings’ Anze Kopitar, at one point, cashed in with two goals just over four minutes apart early in the second period.
Overall, the Coyotes’ early-season demise resulted from a series of intangibles. While the effort may be there, the results are fleeting.
“It’s a matter of work ethic,” said forward Mikkel Boedker, who contributed with a power-play goal early in the second period. “Really, it starts with everyone in the (locker) room. If each player gives just 10 percent more, you’ll see a different team.”
By the time Shane Doan’s second tally of the season 22 seconds into the final period brought Phoenix to within at 3-2, a giveaway from defenseman Michael Stone lead to the fourth and important L.A. goal.
Turnovers and giveaways have plagued Phoenix over the first week of the season. The prospects for improvement clearly lay with implementation.
“It comes down to simple execution,” said coach Dave Tippett. “When you make mistakes, they come back to bite you. We like to think we’re a team which doesn’t beat ourselves, but, right now, that’s not the case.”
For a team which emphasized defense, the Coyotes continue to make mistakes in their own end. That’s compounded by a key injury to defenseman Rostislav Klesla that forced a change in parings.
Here, Tippett inserted Stone along a reliable David Schlemko. It was an unforced error by Stone that led to Jake Mussin’s shot from the blue line and in behind LaBarbera.
“We need to shut people down in our zone,” said Doan, after the Coyotes started the season by dropping four of their first five games. “It’s disappointing because we’ll play good in spurts. We need to play the right way for a whole 60 minutes.”
Injuries have not helped, but Tippett will not use this reality as influential on early-season outcomes.
A plethora of mishaps forced Tippett to change lines.
At the start of the Kings‘ game, he had Antoine Vermette between Steve Sullivan and Doan, Martin Hanzal centering Radim Vrbata and Boedker, Boyd Gordon between Lauri Korpikoski and David Moss, and a fourth line of center Kyle Chipchura and two recently recalled from Portland, Nick Johnson and Alexandre Bolduc.
Plus, goalie Mike Smith is out with an undisclosed injury while center Matthew Lombardi is out indefinitely. To this end, backup goalie Chad Johnson and Stone each started the season at AHL Portland (Maine) and are skating in the majors.
For now, the Coyotes appear in a deep funk and an unaccustomed plight. Going forward, Tippett indicated, each player needs to take a profound introspection.
“Yes, it‘s frustrating the way it‘s going right now,” Tippett said. “In this league, you earn the right to win.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.