Discipline, discipline, discipline.
That’s hockey’s equivalent of that famous real estate mantra: location, location, location.
When the Chicago Blackhawks skated into Jobing.com Arena as the NHL’s only undefeated team, they showed flashes of early-season success. It did not help that the Coyotes gave the Hawks a grand boost with an undisciplined opening 20 minutes of play.
In dropping an eventual 6-2 defeat to Chicago before 15,096, the Coyotes gave evidence they may not be the disciplined, gritty team that advanced to the Western Conference finals last spring.
Through the opening weeks of the season, they took a plethora of penalties and left the slot open for opposing teams to take advantage.
While the playoff scenario is far from decided, the Coyotes clearly need to step up their game, create a greater sense of urgency and shake the habit of playing undisciplined hockey.
The debacle against the Hawks should be a rather definitive “wake up” call.
“This is a good slap in the face,” said an upset Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, whose post-game session with the media lasted only 1 minute and 23 seconds. “If players don’t understand that, we have a bigger problem. This better be a [blip] on the radar screen.”
Against Chicago, and especially in the first period, the discipline was no where to be found. Phoenix was called for five minor penalties and surrendered four goals. Four penalties resulted in two, two-man advantages for the Hawks, and Patrick Kane scored goals on both opportunities.
“You just don’t give away that many opportunities to any team,” said Phoenix captain Shane Doan. “Look, we were not good in many areas. There is always a day of accountability. Plus, anytime you give up five-on-three, you’ll get burned.”
By contrast, the Hawks defense was nearly air-tight.
In the opening period alone, Chicago allowed only four shots on goalie Ray Emery and peppered Phoenix net minder Mike Smith with 17 shots. Skating off with a 4-0 advantage after one period, the Hawks then made an easy night with two more in the second session.
The six goals allowed by Phoenix was the most since Jan. 20, when they lost to the Hawks 6-4 on Jobing.com Arena ice.
In all of last season, Phoenix allowed six goals twice in a game, and the last time was a 6-2 defeat at Anaheim on Jan. 18. So far in the 2013 season, the Coyotes have surrendered six goals twice in a game and both were against Chicago at home.
Of the 33 goals allowed this season by Phoenix, 12 have been scored by the Hawks. The teams have one game remaining against each other and that is on April 20 at the United Center.
If the Coyotes looked like they had difficulty keeping the Hawks at bay, the Chicago defense was stellar by comparison. Anchored by Duncan Keith, who won the Norris Trophy for the 2009-10 season, and Brent Seabrook, teaming as perhaps the best pair on the blue line the NHL, the Chicago defense held Phoenix to eight shots for nearly the first 35 minutes of the game.
For 60 minutes of play, the Coyotes were held to 24 shots, and Raffi Torres’ first goal of the season with 1:35 left in the contest cut the final margin to four.
Still, a plethora of 12 penalties doomed Phoenix and clearly unmasked what was once considered a strong defensive unit.
“I’m worried about our team,” said Torres. “We can’t give up opportunities like we did. Right now, we need to look in the mirror and see what kind of team we are. Good players have to be good players and good goalies must be able to stop the puck.”
Torres stopped long enough to look in the rear-view mirror.
“We had two hard days of practice and thought we were ready,” he said. “There is no excuse to come out and have a game like this.”
The Coyotes now break for one day of practice and then hit the road for six of their next eight games. The trip begins Saturday afternoon with a stop in San Jose.
By the time the Coyotes open a three-game homestand in late February and early March, there should be a strong indication of their capabilities.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.