Strong Effort Against LA May Be Too Little, Too Late for Phoenix Coyotes

Mark BrownContributor IApril 3, 2013

Antoine Vermette is one player who needs to score down the stretch.
Antoine Vermette is one player who needs to score down the stretch.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The dilemma facing the Phoenix Coyotes is rather obvious.

Though the Desert Dogs may play well through their remaining schedule and even pick up a few wins, this surge will likely not be enough.

With perhaps their best overall game in recent weeks, the Coyotes put together a solid 60-minute effort and defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, 3-1, in front of 12,834 at Arena on Tuesday night.

Despite the effort, the task ahead is formidable. The Coyotes must leap over four teams just to quality for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and then survive in the postseason meat grinder.

Granted, this was the best effort Phoenix produced in the recent weeks, but the result foretold a clear and present reality: The solid effort against the Kings cannot be an isolated endeavor.

“We’re a pretty desperate team right now, and came out and played that way,” said goalkeeper Jason LaBarbera, who turned away 39 of 40 shots to improve to 3-5-2. “I thought the play around the net was strong and I saw the puck all night. That made my job easier and we did a good job of pursuing the puck (in the L.A. end)."

In the latest act of desperation, the Phoenix defense rallied in front of LaBarbera and limited the opposition to the lowest goals against since Mike Smith shut out Columbus March 16. In that game, the Coyotes lost in a shootout. Tonight's win was LaBarbera’s second victory in his last two outings and prompted coach Dave Tippett to offer a reasonable explanation.

“(LaBarbera’s) just battling,” the coach pointed out. “When you play more than the usual backup, your game tends to be sharper. But (LaBarbera) has been excellent and has given us strong efforts.”

That’s because starter Smith went down with a severe blow to the head behind the Vancouver net on March 21 and has not returned to the ice since. LaBarbera started the last six games, but Phoenix has won only two.

That puts the Coyotes in a precarious position and the keynote of their stretch drive is consistency. That test comes Thursday night when the Detroit Red Wings skate into Arena, and the stakes for Phoenix could not be higher.

“We have a great group of guys in here and we know what’s ahead,” said Matthew Lombardi, who scored the game-winner on a neat backhander at 11:05 of the second period. “We have the confidence in here and just have to go out and do it.”

The L.A. win started a three-game homestand with the Red Wings and Colorado to follow.

Then, the challenge.

The Coyotes finish the season with seven of their final 10 games on the road.


Approaching  the Trading Deadline

On Tuesday, the Coyotes sent minor league forward Joel Rechlicz to Washington for forward Matthew Clackson.

Clackson has yet to appear in an NHL game, and in 264 career games in the AHL, he's scored eight goals and tallied 784 penalty minutes.


Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.