Phoenix Coyotes Still Trying To Establish Fanbase

Mark BrownContributor INovember 7, 2010

Penguins' Sidney Croby picked up a goal and assist against the Coyotes Satuday
Penguins' Sidney Croby picked up a goal and assist against the Coyotes SatudayChristian Petersen/Getty Images

This was the kind of hockey game which would attract fans.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, with marquee attraction Sidney Crosby, was in town, the building nearly filled, and the usual array of hits displayed littered the ice. Plus, the Phoenix Coyotes energized their fans early, and jumped out to an 2-0 lead less than seven minutes into the contest, and but could not sustain that advantage. Eventually, a shoot out goal by the Penguins' Mark Letestu gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 win before 14,642 at Jobing.Com Arena.

If fans came out to the Penguins' celebrated players, they were not disappointed. Crobsy and Evgeni Malkin scored 3:02 apart in the second period to deadlock matters at 2-goals each. Later, Wojtek Wolski scored his first of the season at 15:36 of the second, but the Penguins' Chris Kuntz deadlocked matters at 3-3 with a power play goal with 34 second left in the middle session.

The presence of the Penguins, and a loud crowd, did not escape notice.

"Nice to see the building full again," Wolski said. "That's the kind of crowd we had last season. There's definitely a market for hockey here, and I hope to fans come back."

Problem with this one, as with previous home games at Jobing. Com Arena, is that the Phoenix hockey fan base is unstable, changes from opponent to opponent, and attendance for future games is uncertain.

Crowd for the Pittsburgh game was only the second above 10,000 in the Coyotes' seven home dates. The other one was a sellout on opening night Oct. 18 when the Red Wings drew 17,125. In between, the largest was 8,171 to see Tampa Bay Oct. 30. 

All of which should raise immediate "red flags" to potential buyers of the troubling Phoenix franchise. Much as been written and discussed about the Coyotes remaining in Glendale, Ariz., relocating elsewhere, or having the NHL dissolve the franchise.

"I didn't like the outcome but this was certainly an entertaining hockey game," said Dave Tippett, the Coyotes coach. "I hope fans left with an impression. It would have been better if they left with a smile on their face."

While this discussion has been on the minds of many not on the collective lips of decision-makers these days, there remains few good, economic reasons for anyone to try and keep this franchise in the desert.

Still, that decision is far removed from play on the ice. 

In losing leads of 2-0, and 3-2, players admitted to recognizing a greater sense of urgency.

"We need to learn how to play with a lead," said Eric Belanger, who scored the Coyotes' first goal early in the opening period. "When we had the lead there in the second period, we were sitting back too much. I know this team battles every night and right now, we just need to stay positive."

The Coyotes now face a stretch for playing five of their next seven on the road. That includes a stop to the United Center and a date with the defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Black Hawks Nov. 10. That's the challenge for a team now 2-3-1 in its six road dates thus far.

Ice Chips

Captain Shane Doan is out for at least the next week. He sustained a lower back injury Nov. 5 at Dallas...Defenseman Ed Jovanovski is also out with the flu. Jovanovski is expected back in the lineup for the Coyotes' next game Monday Nov. 8 in Detroit.