If the task was difficult earlier, it’s now nearly impossible.
With six games remaining, the Coyotes' chances for the playoffs appear slim to none. That may be a bitter pill for a proud coach like Dave Tippett to swallow, because his teams usually qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Not this time.
As a result of a 4-0 defeat to the San Jose Sharks before 13,094 Monday night in Jobing.com Arena, the Coyotes remain 11th in the Western Conference, clearly on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in. That’s because Phoenix is four points behind eighth-place Detroit and ninth-place Columbus.
In a period where the physical destination of the Phoenix franchise remains questionable, so does the physical play on the ice.
Against the Sharks, the Coyotes displayed none of the critical intangibles needed to sustain a playoff run. There was little sense of urgency, and the mistakes around goaltender Jason LaBarbera were plentiful.
“Right now, we’re looking for players who will make a positive impact,” Tippett said after the San Jose game. “We have players putting forth an effort, but that’s not good enough. The frustrating part is there are too many guys taking up roster spots. They’re not doing enough to win the games.”
Against San Jose, the Coyotes put together a competitive first period and then the roof collapsed.
In allowing a season-high 24 shots in the second period, the Phoenix defense crumbled in front of LaBarbera and surrendered three goals, including two less than two minutes apart.
“In the second period, we took our foot off the pedal,” said right wing David Moss. “They scored a few and we couldn’t sustain the pressure.”
Moss, along with each player in that Sedona Red sweater, say they understand the urgency at the moment. This may be too little, too late.
With six games remaining and facing an immediate three-game road test in St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit, the Coyotes are slowing watching the sands fall from the hourglass of their season.
“Look at the standings and we see what’s ahead,” Moss added. “Now, it’s back on the road and we have to fight hard. It won’t be easy.”
When Moss told reporters after the game that the Coyotes had no forechecking, he clearly pinpointed a fundamental reason why this team will not make the playoffs.
Those teams intimidated opponents with hard skating and purposeful forechecking. Banging bodies off the puck was their forte, and the results were evident.
The Coyotes have also spent much of the season standing around their goalie. A prime example occurred on the Sharks’ first goal on Monday night.
The Phoenix defense let Logan Couture creep along the side of the net and he managed to flip in his 17th goal of the season at 8:50 of the second period. Tommy Wingels followed with his fifth of the season less than two minutes later, and the Coyotes felt the sting of leaving players alone in front of their net.
In the long run, the Coyotes were guilty of overconfidence. Somehow, they seemed to lay on the laurels of a strong postseason last spring and exhibited a careless attitude. When losses began to pile up, they teased with the ability to handle critics and keep opponents at bay with isolated wins, and disguised defeats as somehow uncharacteristic of their fate.
At this point, the Coyotes can only ride the words of winger Mikkel Boedker, who told reporters after the game: “No one will quit, and we’ll have play hard for the last six games.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.