3 Problems in the Way of the Phoenix Coyotes Returning to the Conference Finals

Michael JenkinsContributor IIIFebruary 18, 2013

3 Problems in the Way of the Phoenix Coyotes Returning to the Conference Finals

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    When you take a glance at the Phoenix Coyotes' current roster, you have to begin to contemplate a season that could end prematurely for the squad and its fans.

    Why, some of you may ask?

    This slideshow will describe the three troubling signs that have popped up early in this 2013 season that should have the team worried unless they are addressed ASAP.

Offensive Consistency

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    The Desert Dogs have never been an offensive powerhouse. But they are going to need to get a more consistent effort on the offensive end against the better teams in the league.

    Scoring five goals against Columbus is great, but they may be the worst team in the league. The games against San Jose, L.A., Anaheim, Chicago and Detroit are the types of games in which the squad is going to have to score meaningful and timely goals.

    If the goaltending is worse (which it has been this year), more goals will have to be scored. Right now the team is running a deficit in goal difference this season, which is not the sign of a playoff-caliber team. Making a move for a scoring forward could help in this area, which is something Don Maloney has to be looking at as his team teeters on the brink of making the playoffs.

    If this does not improve on a nightly basis, the Coyotes could find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin.

Goaltending

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    Mike Smith was outstanding leading his team to a playoff berth last year.

    He has been tremendous at times this season as well, but statistics do not lie. Smith is 5-4-1 with a goals against average of 2.80 and an .897 save percentage. This is a big regression from last season's 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage. 

    The Coyotes are giving up fewer shots a game this season than last, which makes the stats even more troubling.

    Simply put, if Smith's play returns to its 2012 level, the Coyotes will have a chance to return to the big dance.

Penalty Minutes

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    The 2012 Phoenix Coyotes were a keen example of what discipline can do for a hockey team.

    They finished 26th in the league in penalty minutes against and did not force themselves into situations that could lead to disaster. If you can limit shorthanded situations, your defense and goaltending will be more effective. The stats will reflect better and your team can benefit from more time at even strength or with a man advantage.

    One example of the team's recent lack of discipline came against Chicago in a testosterone-filled rematch of last season's playoff series in which Coyotes winger Raffi Torres hospitalized the Blackhawks Marian Hossa with a vicious and illegal hit.

    In Torres' first game back against the Blackhawks, it turned into a undisciplined penalty fest that put the team in multiple shorthanded situations that allowed Chicago to run away with a 4-0 first-period lead and a 6-2 victory.

    The Coyotes are ranked 15th so far this season in penalty minutes against, and this elevation in rank is not a good sign. The hope will have to be that the Coyotes shake off their early-season rust, resume playing Dave Tippett-style hockey and regain the discipline that led to their success last season.