To break into a pattern of consistent play and become serious contenders for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes would prefer not to play roller-coaster hockey.
Yet, the Coyotes continue to allow goals at an alarming rate, and their ability to successfully play catch-up will be called into play.
This dimension was clearly realized Saturday.
That’s when the Coyotes faced off in the first of three straight games against the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks. In a sloppy effort that might challenge their ability to play a tight, defensive game, the Coyotes may have left a calling card about playing from behind.
To that end, the Desert Dogs clearly dodged a bullet Saturday with a come-from-behind, 5-4 shootout win over the Ducks before 15,227 at Jobing.com Arena.
In a game which very much resembled a roller-coaster ride, the Coyotes had a lead early in the second period, allowed two to the visiting Ducks, came back to tie but continued to ride the dangerous roller coaster.
That resulted in an Anaheim power-play goal early in the final period and the tally by Saku Koivu at 6:25 that snapped a 3-3 tie.
Yet, the response by Phoenix was gratifying. That’s when Steve Sullivan picked up the tying goal in front with less than six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game.
In the shootout, Sullivan provided the lift for Phoenix when he scored the only goal. From there, goalie Mike Smith stopped Corey Perry and Koivu to preserve the win.
“We know who important every game is and we wanted to apply a full court in the third,” said Sullivan, who scored for the first time since Jan. 24 at San Jose. “Right now, we just need to find a way to win. We did that in the third by dumping pucks in, chasing and forechecking.”
The result was bookends.
Lauri Korpikoski flipped in a backhander 16 seconds into the final period to tie the game. Coupled with a second-period goal, that represented the seventh time in Korpikoski’s career he scored twice in a game. The last time was Feb. 4, 2012 against San Jose. Then, Sullivan scored late in the game to forge a tie.
“This was an important game for us,” said Korpikoski. “(Anaheim) is the division leader, and at this point in the season, everyone in this (locker room) has to be better. Everyone can give a little more.”
Despite feeding off the energy in the building from charged and emotional fans, the Coyotes must prevent staging celebrated comebacks. To survive and compete for playoff positioning, the defense needs to be stronger, Smith must be more consistent and scoring opportunities must be created from all four lines.
For Phoenix, the danger signs ahead are apparent.
For starters, Smith has allowed eight goals in his last two games, and was pulled last Thursday night in an eventual 4-3 loss to Minnesota. While coach Dave Tippett said Smith made “timely saves” to help aid the Ducks win, Smith must return to the level of play he sustained last season.
Then, he led the Coyotes the Western Conference finals. That surge represented the best playoff run in franchise history.
The Coyotes also cannot afford to live dangerously and expect guts and elan to pull out wins.
If they are the survive and gain a playoff spot, the dynamics must change. In the postseason, the games dramatically change to tight-checking contests and survival of the best goaltender.
With less than two months remaining in this lockout-shortened season, the Coyotes’ bout with inconsistency and spurts of success need to be channeled into discipline.
Despite getting two points against Anaheim, the Ducks also picked up a point in the standings. In this regard, the Coyotes need put any opposition standing points in the rear view mirror.
To forge ahead, they need to firmly affix blinders, take their eyes off the scoreboard and standings and create the kind of air-tight defense which characterizes championship teams.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.