For the Coyotes to challenge in the second half, goalie Mike Smith must step up his game.
The start of the second half may form a vision for the Phoenix Coyotes' fate.
In dropping a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks before a sell-out crowd at Jobing.com Arena Friday night, the defeat was worrisome in many ways. Plus, the way the Coyotes played in recent weeks could provide a crystal ball into the future.
Not only do the Coyotes need to find ways to win now, they also must find ways to secure victories in the future. If they expect to be competitive through the final three months of the seasons, their play in critical areas of the game must improve.
In their past 10 games, including the Friday night shootout defeat to the Sharks, Phoenix is 3-3-4. Playing .500 hockey to coach Dave Tippett, general manager Don Maloney and players is clearly not acceptable.
Take the immediate days following the Christmas break and the effort against San Jose.
"I think our legs are heavy after three days off," said winger David Moss after Friday's game. "As the game went, I personally felt a little better."
Not quite good enough.
For the Coyotes to challenge for postseason position, two critical things must happen.
Win the 1-Goal Games
Good teams find ways to win, and the Coyotes need to find ways to win. For this to happen, goalie Mike Smith must raise the level of his game.
In his 32 starts through games of Friday night, Smith has no shutouts and allowed one goal in only two games. If the Coyotes are to ride his coattails, he must be the goalie he was two years ago. That's when Smith led the Coyotes into the Western Conference Final and missed qualifying for the Stanley Cup Final by only two victories.
On their recent road trip before the Christmas break, the Coyotes went 1-2-1. Two of the games ended with Phoenix dropping a 3-1 decision. In these games, the Coyotes' losses were by that 3-1 margin, but both games were 2-1 until the Habs and Leafs each hit the empty net.
These are the kinds of games that the Coyotes must win and score more than one goal to do so.
Play a Full 60 Minutes
Teams tend to skate in spurts, but now down the stretch, the Coyotes must play a grinding, full 60 minutes each time out.
Any decline in the caliber of play could give an opposing team a clear advantage. Because the Coyotes need to gather points and victories in bunches, a full 60 minutes each effort, from each player, is in order.
Tippett cannot worry about players out, like captain Shane Doan with Rocky Mountain Fever, but receive a maximum effort from each player each night.
"The injured guys will hopefully be back soon," Tippett said after the San Jose game. "For now, we deal with the players we have. Every day, we go out there, put the work in and find ways to win."
Going forward, Tippett clearly identified the principal challenge facing his team.
For the Coyotes to survive in the highly competitive Western Conference, this team must find ways to win.
Mark Brown is a featured columnist, and unless noted otherwise, quotes in this story were obtained firsthand.