The Phoenix Coyotes' Playoff Hopes Hang by a Thread

Mark BrownContributor IApril 11, 2014

Center Martin Hanzal is one of many Coyotes who disappeared down the stretch.
Center Martin Hanzal is one of many Coyotes who disappeared down the stretch.Getty Images / Christian Petersen

Here’s a message to Phoenix Coyotes hockey fans.

Circle the date March 25, 2014. That was a 3-2 Phoenix victory over the Penguins in Pittsburgh and marked the last time the Coyotes won a hockey game in regulation.

Two nights later, Phoenix beat the New Jersey Devils in overtime, marking the last time the Coyotes gained two points in a game.

Since that victory, Phoenix has dropped six straight and, for all practical purposes, has tumbled out of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Now two standing points behind the Dallas Stars, the Coyotes need some dramatic help. That would come in the form of the St. Louis Blues, who engage the Stars in Dallas Friday night.

Coming into play Friday night, Coyotes and Stars have each played 80 games. Dallas has 39 wins and 89 standing points, and Phoenix has 36 victories and 87 standing points.

The only way Phoenix would qualify for the postseason would be to defeat San Jose at home Saturday night and also defeat Dallas at home Sunday night, and have the Stars lose or pick up one point (tie game after 60 minutes) to St. Louis Friday night.

If the Stars beat St. Louis and the Coyotes defeat the Sharks and Stars at home, the two teams would tie with 91 points. The Stars would gain the final playoff spot by virtue of the tiebreaker over Phoenix.
“Obviously, we need help now,” coach Dave Tippett told The Associated Press via ESPN after the Coyotes were shut out 2-0 Thursday night in Nashville. “You’ve got to get yourself rested and ready for the next game. We’ll see where we are Saturday morning.”

That’s in direct reference to the Dallas’ Friday night encounter with the Blues.

If the Coyotes do not make the playoffs, they can blame a rather severe scoring drought.

The shutout loss to Nashville is only one example of a vital function of the team that disappeared at the most critical time of the season.

Save a 4-3 loss to Columbus April 8, the Coyotes scored four goals in five games, including shutout losses to the Kings (April 2) and the Predators on April 10. That was a period from March 29 through April 10.

A closer look at some players on whom Tippett relied revealed the main reason why the Coyotes will likely clean out their lockers next Monday morning for the summer.

Martin Erat, brought over from the Capitals at the trading deadline, scored two goals in his 15 games in Sedona Red. Radium Vrbata scored eight goals in his last 43 games to April 10; his center Martin Hanzal picked up one goal from Jan. 18 to April 10; Mike Ribeiro scored four goals between Dec. 31 and April 10 (40 games) and Antoine Vermette, who leads the Coyotes with 24 goals on the season, has scored three goals in his last 26 games through April 10.

At one point, Tippett benched Ribeiro for two games (March 25 and March 27) for a lack of scoring. In a stretch of 15 games from Feb. 4 to March 24, Ribeiro picked up one goal and five assists.

The Coyotes could not have picked a worse time to hit the wall. Their lack of production has been so drastic that the team experienced that free fall through the final weeks of the season.

“It’s not where we want to be,” defenseman Michael Stone told The Associated Press after the Nashville shootout. “That’s all there is to it, really. We didn’t do enough to continue to be able to control our own fate.”

Now the Coyotes play out their final two games of the season at home, at Arena.

On Sunday, the players and coaches participate in Fan Appreciation Night, but at this point, there’s not much to appreciate from a group of hockey players who could have easily controlled their future.


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