Reflecting inconsistent play, goalie Mike Smith was pulled Thursday night at the start of the third period.
The one, consistent pattern for the Phoenix Coyotes this season has been a maddening inconsistency.
Should this pattern continue through the final two months of this lockout-shortened season, the Coyotes will have an early date with their television sets to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For a team that reached notable heights last season, the fall from grace has been abrupt and painful.
Through their first 20 games, the Coyotes’ longest winning streak was two games, and that was accomplished only twice. By comparison, they had eight winning streaks of two or more contests last season.
The latest bout with misery resulted from a lackluster 4-3 defeat to Minnesota on Thursday night before 11,547 at Jobing.com Arena. The final score did not reflect the Coyotes' display of lethargy.
After outshooting the Wild 8-1 midway through the first period, Phoenix managed 21 shots over the final two-plus periods, but two of the three goals came from defensemen. Two of the tallies came in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game.
At this point, the Coyotes are neither beating teams below them nor beating teams ahead of them with any kind of consistency. The inability to manufacture wins and string together victories could ultimately be the decisive factor in making or not making the playoffs.
“We need everyone to contribute every night,” said coach Dave Tippett after the Minnesota defeat. “Every point is critical and we need to find ways to keep us in the hunt.”
From an offensive standpoint, recent injuries have hurt. Though Tippett will acknowledge the reality of missing important players, he said others need to step forward.
Against Minnesota, the Coyotes skated without right wing Radim Vrbata and center Martin Hanzal. In their place, Kyle Chipchura has elevated his game and drawn praise. Coming into the Minnesota contest, Chipchura had three goals in his last three games and picked up an assist Thursday night.
“Chipchura’s line was the best one for us (against Minnesota), and that should not be the case,” Tippett added. “That means other guys are not doing enough.”
With the advent of March, a common refrain around the Coyotes locker room is simply trying to find ways to win.
On their most recent road trip, the Desert Dogs had leads in Edmonton and Calgary late in those games, but lost both contests. Displaying that inconsistent pattern, they skated into Rogers Arena in Vancouver and took a 4-2 decision from the Canucks—a team predicted to battle for the Stanley Cup later this spring.
Conforming to that uneasy pattern of inconsistency, they returned home and turned in a clunker with that defeat to Minnesota.
“We didn’t do a good job up front, and that’s our game,” said captain Shane Doan, who scored his 100th goal at Jobing.com Arena in the final minute of the game. “We rely on everyone for us to win and we need a solid effort from everyone.”
Doan offered a sense of urgency surrounding his team, but the effort—especially after the opening session—simply reinforced the Coyotes' need to forge both consistent showings and a pattern of wins.
“I thought we came out ready to play and carried the game in the first period,” he added. “The game came down to giving them opportunities, and they capitalized.”
Indicating the Coyotes’ urgent need to bring themselves off the mat, Tippett shook his head and harped on the consistency theory.
At this point in the season, this seems easier said than done.
Doan’s goal at 19:01 of the final period pushed the 36-year-old native of Halkirk, Alberta into a tie with Keith Tkachuk (323) for second in goals scored in franchise history. Dale Hawerchuk (379) is the Winnipeg/Phoenix leader.
The Coyotes now take on Anaheim for three straight games. The series starts Saturday and next Monday night at home and concludes at the Honda Center next Wednesday night.
Coming into play Thursday night, the Ducks were leading the Pacific Division by seven points over the Los Angeles Kings. Only the Blackhawks had more standing points than Anaheim (35 to the Ducks’ 29 and Montreal‘s 29) and Anaheim has three regulation losses this season.
Only Chicago (none) and the Bruins (two) have fewer regulation defeats.
Facing the Ducks over their next three games, Tippett said after the Minnesota defeat, "We’ll seriously address Anaheim in practice (Friday).”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.