The look on Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was a resounding “bland.”
Animated with a quick smile sprinkled in a rich, baritone voice, Tippett is usually engaging.
Not this time.
Following the Coyotes’ fourth defeat in the last five games, and all at home, Tippett answered reporters’ questions after last Saturday’s defeat to Anaheim with a basic, matter-of-fact disposition. Missing were the words accentuated with emotion and expressive body language.
Tippett, like his players, are searching for ways to climb back into the Stanley Cup playoff picture and begin to salvage the remains of the season. With the Olympic break coming next month, the Coyotes have 10 weeks left in the season and are currently battling Vancouver and Minnesota for the final two Western Conference playoff spots.
The current demise has players reeling and the future uncertain.
“Right now, we’re not a very good team,” said captain Shane Doan. “And, we haven’t been for a while. We are not good enough as a team. We’re not doing the simple things to win battles and then win games.”
In blunt comments, Doan said “there is so much blame to go around and there needs to be a personal challenge to each player.”
Just before embarking on their current two-game road trip to Winnipeg and St. Louis early this week, players said the politically correct things.
Defenseman Keith Yandle said his play, in recent games, “is terrible.” Yet, the all-star offered little in which to right the ship.
“In this stretch, it’s been tough,” he said. “We need to find ways to win and to get back to Coyotes hockey. Right now, we have to get back to doing things the hard way.”
One example which may set the Coyotes apart from their competition is play at the blue line.
Against Anaheim last Saturday, the Ducks defense blocked shot after shot in front of goalie Jonas Hiller.
Conversely, the Coyotes are missing defenseman Zbynek Michalek, whom Tippett identifies as playing “hard minutes.” That means he’s diving at pucks, blocking shots and generally making life for the Phoenix goalies somewhat calm.
With his solid defensive abilities recuperating from a lower body injury, the Coyotes defense has been compromised. Yandle, a recent liability in front of his net, shows no signs of improvement and rookie Connor Murphy, who played in 21 games at the major league level, was sent back to Portland of the American Hockey League to further his education.
All of which could point to difficult times ahead.
If the Coyotes are to climb back into the playoff picture and truly play competitive hockey over the final two-plus months of the season, they must pay attention to detail.
The defense must be more aggressive in front of the goalie, move the puck with speed and purpose and clear shots from the vicinity of the crease.
Forwards must be better forecheckers and create more opportunities in the offensive end.
Overall, the power of concentration must be stronger and on a higher level. Players need to look deeply in the mirror and raise their level of accountability.
“We’ve been trying to fix a bunch of things for a while,” Tippett said. “Now, we need to regroup and get out on spurts. A few hard-fought wins can get success and then things can change in a hurry.”
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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