If the Phoenix Coyotes expect to qualify for postseason play, they need to learn to play with "the big boys."
That means acquiring the education "to put teams away," and maintain leads until the final buzzer.
Through the All-Star Game, the Coyotes' inconsistent game remains as troubling as their penchant to tease Phoenix fans. Just when the team strings a few wins together, they find ways not to play a complete game, can't quite go the distance in the 60-minute marathon on ice, and tend to lose leads late in games.
In the first game after the All-Star break, the Coyotes had a three-goal lead at San Jose and that melted as fast as an ice cream cone in the torrid Phoenix summer. The Sharks proceeded to score five unanswered tallies, and skated off with a 5-3 win. In their 13th back-to-back set of the season, the Coyotes returned to Jobing.com Arena Feb. 2, the next night, to face the Vancouver Canucks, leading the NHL in standing points.
In a continued show of ineptitude, the Coyotes proceeded to drop a 6-0 decision to the Canucks before 13,157 at Jobing.com Arena. For the 60 minutes of play, they were limited to 23 shots on the Vancouver net. Goalkeeper Roberto Luongo recorded his third shutout of the season, and the 54th of his NHL career. Add the five unanswered goals in the San Jose game, and that adds up to allowing 11 unanswered goals in a span of 80:07.
"Embarrassing," was all captain Shane Doan told reporters. "Everyone is embarrassed and as a whole, we have to get better. We can't continue to make mistakes. We're finding ways to win on the road, and that's keeping us in the race, but we're losing that ground at home."
Perhaps the two games this week may foreshadow the Coyotes' fate over the final two months of the season. Plus, these matches were against conference opponents, and the teams the Coyotes need to beat to quality for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For their lack of production, the Coyotes, through games of Feb. 2, have dropped five straight contests at home. Their last victory in the desert was a 6-2 win over Anaheim Jan. 15.
"We need to realize how hard it is to win in this league," said Dave Tippett, the Phoenix coach. "We need to get back to reality, and when we discover how hard it is to win, then we'll be fine."
Some feel the Coyotes play two different games, aggressive on the road, and too cautious at Jobing.com Arena.
"I think we're too cute at home," said defenseman Derek Morris. "We need to get back to basics and get the mind right. We win by doing the simple things right, and need to get back to that."
Plus, the Coyotes could not round up the usual suspects against the NHL's best team.
Vancouver All-Star Ryan Kesler scored twice in the third period of the win at Phoenix Feb. 2. He neatly undressed defenseman Adrian Aucoin and beat Ilya Bryzgalov to the glove-side for his 29th early in the third, and added his second, unassisted, at 17:32 of the final period.
Coming into the Phoenix Feb. 2 game, the Sedin twins were among the top scorers in the NHL. Henrik led the league in assists, while Daniel was third, and both were held in check by Phoenix. The twins managed one point, and that was an assist by Daniel on the Canucks' first goal from Alexandre Burrows less than four minutes into the game.
With the loss to Vancouver Feb. 2, the Coyotes opened a significant home stand. Counting the Canucks game, Phoenix plays six of its next seven games at home, including the first of two in the desert against the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Defenseman Keith Yandle was named the NHL's Second Star of the Month for January. Yandle recorded 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in 14 games. Center Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins was named the month's First Star, and goalkeeper Pekka Rinne of Nashville was the Third Star.
Vancouver's Cody Hodgson picked up his first NHL goal midway through the second period in the win at Phoenix Feb. 2. Hodgson was the Canucks' first pick, and the 10th overall, in the 2008 NHL draft. He made his NHL debut Feb. 1 at Dallas.
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