For a team on the playoff bubble, the Phoenix Coyotes show little sense of urgency.
No desperation and the life support monitor displays a faint and distant beep.
Locked with the Dallas Stars for the final Western Conference postseason slot, the Coyotes are not playing like a team with its season on the line.
Coming out against the lowly Edmonton Oilers Friday night at home, the forechecking was nonexistent, battles for loose pucks were lost and command of the moment at hand was absent.
The energy level against the Oilers, a team with the second-worst record in the NHL, seemed more like an exhibition game in September. If the Coyotes are serious about qualifying for the playoffs, their passion, emotion and sense of commitment must be raised.
Clearly, this is not a team on a mission and least of all, not a team trying frantically to qualify for postseason play. As well, the Coyotes’ tepid style of play did not involve the 14,732 in attendance Friday night at Jobing.com Arena. The fans appeared less engaged than the players, more distant and clearly less passionate.
Despite the perception on the ice, players see things differently.
“Absolutely, there’s passion and emotion,” said defenseman Michael Stone, after the Coyotes eventually lost 3-2 to the Oilers in a shootout. “No lack of emotion and guys are trying to do things the right way. We know what’s at stake and this is no pick-up hockey game.”
In the last seven games prior to the Edmonton contest, the Coyotes were winners in only two and scored three goals in their previous three games. They managed only two against Edmonton, and a Kyle Chipchura goal that broke a 1-1 tie with fewer than seven minutes in the game was more opportunistic than creating a genuine scoring chance.
Adding to the apparent lack of passion, this is a team that does not score.
After shutting out Calgary 6-0 on Jan. 7, the most the Coyotes have scored in any game is five goals—and that was accomplished against Montreal at home on March 6. Save the Canadiens win, the most scored in a game was four, and that happened just four times since the Flames’ whitewash.
The so-called “big guns” and what coach Dave Tippett identified as the top nine forwards seem to do a collective disappearing act.
“We need to get more out of those nine guys,” Tippett said. “Right now, it’s about execution and we did not execute. The intentions were fine (against the Oilers) but the shootout loss was demoralizing. This is not a time to lose your head.”
Throughout the game, the lack of passion matched the Coyotes’ production.
In a game that should have been characterized by a high purpose, the Coyotes managed just six shots against Ben Scrivens, who arrived in Edmonton after a trade with the Kings earlier this season, in the opening period. By the middle of the second period, they generated only 10 shots, and there was no semblance of enthusiasm or zeal.
“At the morning skate (Friday), you could feel terrific enthusiasm from the players and the staff,” Tippett added. “That didn’t carry over and then you find yourself chasing the game.”
More importantly, good teams do not leave points on the table.
In their last four games, including the Oilers’ match, the Coyotes have two points out of a possible eight points. Now, Tippett said the only thing Phoenix can do at this point is watch the scoreboard.
Beginning play Saturday, the Coyotes have 86 standing points and the lead the Stars by one for that final Western Conference playoff spot. Yet, Dallas has two games in hand and plays Saturday at Tampa Bay and Sunday in south Florida against the Panthers.
Still on the radar screen is the final game of the season April 13, and that’s when Phoenix and Dallas square off against one another in the desert.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.