Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes need to bang more bodies along the boards.
Pundits like to say offense gets headlines but defense wins championships.
These days, the defense for the Phoenix Coyote is getting headlines for all the wrong reasons.
When coach Dave Tippett simply remarked after Phoenix dropped a 6-3 decision to St. Louis at home Thursday that “every season is different,” that observation characterized the Coyotes first half of the season.
From the accomplishments of a year ago to a marginal opening 24 games, the Coyotes' pattern of inconsistent play was not unnoticed. That's especially true in the nets and on the blue line.
A FoxSports Arizona poll of television viewers during Thursday night's game with the Blues indicated 58 percent said the Coyotes biggest issue was defensive inconsistency.
This maddening pattern of uneasy play and marginal play from goalie Mike Smith has combined to make the second half ahead a severe challenge.
By winning, the Blues picked up two important points and leap-frogged over the Coyotes in the Western Conference standings. After games Thursday night, nine teams were within four points of each other in the Western Conference and survival for playoff positioning down the stretch will be more acute.
While the Coyotes’ ultimate vision remains a postseason slot, that could dramatically change. That’s because the team is allowing an inordinate amount of goals. In their home rink of Jobing.com Arena, they surrendered 18 goals in their last four games.
In that span, they have two shoot-out wins and two losses. So far this season, the team has been unable to string wins together and created space among the bunched teams.
“When you allow, four, five, six goals a game, you can’t win,” said forward David Moss, who scored the Coyotes first shorthanded goal of the season at 18:53 of the opening period. “We’re giving up way too many chances and that’s killing us. Right now, we need to find ways to win and go forward.”
To that end, captain Shane Doan says not “doing the little things” is translating into losses. That includes turning the puck over in inopportune times, allowing too many opportunities, and not protecting the net.
“We need to do things on a more consistent basis,” Doan said. “It’s not a matter of figuring it out but a matter of doing it.”
At best, the Coyotes need to play a stronger game in front of Smith, start banging bodies along the boards, and standing up opposing forwards at the blue line. The Coyotes essentially excelled at those aspects of the game last season, and those factors helped propel the franchise into the Western Conference finals.
For that to happen this time around, the Coyotes must raise their execution level.
“I’m seeing too many red jerseys around the (opposition) net, and that tells me those players are not doing very much,” Tippett said. “Yes, it’s frustrating because we have to recognize who we are. No one is playing at the top of their game, and we need to get players like Doan to play to their capabilities.”
The immediate task, Tippett acknowledged, is “to remain in the hunt. We need to have everyone to play best every night.”
The problems are clear and immediate.
Smith needs to elevate his game, period. In his last four games at home, the native of Kingston, Ont. allowed 18 goals. Tippett said his play could be influenced by a compromised defense in front and allowing more and greater opportunities than last season.
For whatever reason, the Coyotes have the second half to pick up their game and seriously challenge for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For that to happen, the team needs to recognize an immediate sense of urgency and address the second half ahead with a greater and determined resolve.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.