A team this fragile cannot make mistakes.
Not one mistake, and certainly not glaring mistakes.
Not only have the Phoenix Coyotes suffered from a plethora of blunders, but these maladies have helped sink this current group of underachievers deeper in the Western Conference standings.
After dropping a 3-2 decision to the Detroit Red Wings before a sellout crowd of 17,428 in Jobing.com Arena Monday night, the Coyotes remain at 30 points in the standings, three back of the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot. More painful, the Coyotes are a mere four points out of the conference basement, and only the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche have worse records within the standings.
With the loss, the Coyotes have dropped five of their last six games, and the other contest was a shootout defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 16. For the record, their last victory was achieved on March 12 at home against the Los Angeles Kings.
Since that time, the frustration is through the roof, and the usually steady efforts at both ends of the ice are dubious.
“Right now, we’re finding ways to lose games,” said goalie Jason LaBarbera, who is filling in for the injured Mike Smith. “Sure, it’s disappointing, but you have to stick with it. We’re not getting the bounces and not playing well enough to win.”
In an effort to explain the current difficulty, coach Dave Tippett was absolute and direct.
“In the course of a hockey game, there are two critical areas,” he said. “There’s the front of our net and the front of their net. Right now, we’re not getting any effort in front of either net.”
After the Coyotes went ahead 2-1 in the second period, the Wings responded with power-play goals from Johan Franzen late in the second period and the game-winner, with the man advantage, from Pavel Datsyuk early in the final session.
As the final minutes ticked down, the Coyotes, down by one, showed no sense of urgency, no emotion, no drive—they were devoid of purpose. Sure, players said all the right things after the game, but the Coyotes were guilty of standing around during the critical final phase of this one.
For Tippett, this translates into a larger issue.
“You have to earn your confidence, and confidence is earned,” he said. “And, you have to earn the right to be a good player. Ultimately, we have to just keep pounding away.”
Yet, critical mistakes continue to haunt this team.
On the tying goal late in the second period, the Coyotes left the slot open, and Franzen simply said, “Thank you.” LaBarbera had no chance on his wrist shot to the right side of the net.
Then, early in the third period, the Coyotes were on a line change and the refs whistled for too many on the ice.
The woes continued to pile up, as Henrik Zetterberg’s shot on the net during the power-play opportunity deflected off the skate of Phoenix defenseman David Schlemko and right to Pavel Datsyuk. With LaBarbera leaning into the crease, Datsyuk quickly deposited his team-leading sixth power-play tally, and the night was history for Phoenix.
“We’re just trying to stay positive, and you can’t get down in a situation like this,” said forward Rob Klinkhammer, who put the Coyotes in the lead with his third of the season midway through the first period. “It’s a tough time, but we have to keep our heads up and stay positive.”
With only six games left at home, the Coyotes face 10 of their final 16 contests on the road.
“Yep, we’ve dug ourselves a nice little hole, and now we have to go on the road,” LaBarbera added. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.