If the Phoenix Coyotes are to challenge for a playoff spot down the stretch, there needs to be a metamorphosis.
From a team last season noted for grit and discipline, the current edition is far from exhibiting the kind of discipline needed for success.
As with all teams, the defense starts with the goalie, and in the Coyotes' case, Mike Smith is currently under the microscope. After leading Phoenix deep into the playoffs last spring, and reaching within two wins of playing for the Stanley Cup, Smith has not performed nearly to the level of a year ago.
More importantly, he is in the final year of his contract obligation to Phoenix, and talks now appear to be furthest from the minds of principals.
Right now, Smith is struggling to stop pucks and prevent his team from playing from behind. Despite two consecutive shootout wins, each by a 5-4 score over Anaheim in their last two games, Smith appears to be a shell of his previous success.
Then again, the Coyotes’ play in front of Smith has been suspect and has not helped Smith. In a current funk, Smith has allowed 12 goals in his last three games.
While Phoenix management is sold on Smith as the goalie of the present and future, there has been no effort to sign the native of Kingston, Ontario to a long-term deal.
To nearly monitor Smith’s uneven play, the team appears to suffer from a collective letdown.
Regarding the recent maladies, consensus around the Coyotes dressing room is far from clear.
“It’s a serious of subtle things,” offered captain Shane Doan. “In this regard, we’re fortunate to have a coach like (Dave Tippett), who sees things very well.”
If the captain cannot put his finger on the collapse, others have equal difficulty.
“Good question,” responded center Antoine Vermette, when asked about the breakdown in discipline. “Not sure, wish I had an answer. We’re not doing the little things right, and little problems can lead to big problems. We’re finding ways to get points and that’s the important thing.”
At this point, Tippett says, “It’s not about scoring, it’s about winning.” Perhaps, but the way Phoenix is winning could be a sure case formula for late-season disaster.
Despite allowing a plethora of goals over his last three games, Smith did respond in both the overtime and shootout against the Ducks.
In the shootout Monday, Smith stopped Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry, Nick Bonino and Bobby Ryan to preserve the two points.
“Mike is a very competitive player and wants to win,” said Tippett. “He tends to get better in that situation and simply, he’s good.”
While his goals against threatens to reach three per game, Smith’s discipline now will be tested. The Coyotes remain in the playoff chase with nine Western Conference teams, separated by four standing points, in search of a playoff positioning.
“We need to find ways to get points,” said Vermette, who scored his sixth of the season with a second-period power-play goal. “We know every game is tight and every game is important.”
Just tell that to Mike Smith. Right now, he continues to battle opponents in this, his final Phoenix contract season.
On the Ice
In Monday’s game, several Coyotes reached milestones.
First, defenseman Keith Yandle collected his fourth goal of the season in the second period, and that was his 200th career NHL point. … Doan picked up his sixth goal of the season to tie the score at 3-3 and that was his 800th NHL point, At the same time, the tally was the 324th of his Winnipeg/Phoenix career and moved him into second place for most goals in franchise history. The leader is Dale Hawerchuk with 379.
The Coyotes and Ducks conclude a stretch of playing one another in three straight games Wednesday at the Honda Center. Phoenix then returns to Jobing.com Arena for a three-game homestand against St. Louis, Dallas and the Los Angeles Kings.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.