With the trading deadline complete, the Phoenix Coyotes will sink or swim with its current squad.
General manager Dave Maloney executed only one deal at the trading deadline, but that may give the Coyotes the kind of help they desperately seek.
While several teams concluded deals in the days prior to the Feb. 28 deadline, the Coyotes pulled off one of the significant trades right at the final hour. In acquiring defenseman Roslislav Klesla from Columbus, the Coyotes addressed a critical need.
With veteran Ed Jovanovski out possibly for the rest of the regular season and the post-season, should Phoenix qualify, the Coyotes clearly need help on the blue line. Plus, defenseman Adrian Aucoin missed five games with a lower back injury, and only returned for the final game of a recently concluded road trip at Chicago.
More important, the Coyotes are struggling to gain an edge in the Western Conference playoff race, but suffered a major set-back March 1 at home against Dallas.
The Coyotes emotional 3-2 defeat before 15,751 at Jobing.com Arena, on Klesla first game in the desert, clearly overshadowed his debut. Down 2-0 to the visiting Stars, the Coyotes came back to tie on goals from Kelsla and Ray Whitney 3:01 apart late in the final period.
A hooking penalty against Radim Vrbata lead to a power play goal from Jamie Benn with 5 seconds left and a devastating defeat. Losing is one thing, but with 17 games left, every point is critical.
"We were finding ways to win, and by taking a bad penalty there at the end, we're finding ways to lose," lamented Dave Tippett, the Phoenix coach. "I liked how we pushed to get back in the third period, and that's why the loss is so disappointing."
Through March 1, the Coyotes are winless in their previous four games (0-3-1), and their last win was an overtime victory at Philadelphia Feb. 22.
Klesla made an auspicious debut at home against Dallas.
Late in the opening period, the Stars' Tom Wandell ripped the puck from deep in the left face-off circle toward the net. Klesia skated in front of Ilya Bryzgalov, and effectively screen the goalkeeper. Wandall's shot found the back of the net, and the Stars jumped out to 1-0 at 18:16 of the opening period.
Yet, Klesla recovered, and scored the first Phoenix goal at 16:21 of the final period. Breaking in from the left point, he converted a perfect feed from Kyle Turris into his fourth goal of the season.
"Yeah, tough start here, but we need to get this game behind us, and get ready for the next one," Klesla said. "We had a tough time going through their trap, and couldn't get any offense going."
Tippett constantly tells reporters not only is each game critical, but now in the final weeks, it appears each shift is critical. Coming into the Dallas game March 1, 11 teams in the Western Conference were separated by five points. The Coyotes were in third place with 76 standings and at number 11 was Anaheim with 71 points.
The loss keeps Phoenix at 76, but Dallas now has 74, and tied with the Blackhawks.
"The way to separate ourselves from the other teams is simply to win," said Stars' coach Marc Crawford. "Every point is important, and we picked up two huge, valuable points."
With the Klesla deal, the Coyotes may have compromised on their immediately future. By trading Scottie Upshall for Klesla, Phoenix dealt the team's leading goal scorer. With 16 goals, Upshall actually shared the lead for most goals with Tyler Pyatt and Vrbata.
Maloney rationalized trading Upshall by citing the development of Mikkel Boedker (one goal, 8 assists in 18 games), and Kyle Turris (10 goals in 48 games). Bodedker, at 21, was the Coyotes' first pick, 8th overall in the 2008 draft, and Turris, also 21, was Phoenix's first pick, 3rd overall in the 2007 draft.
Still, the Coyotes remain in the playoff picture, but have three difficult opponents straight ahead. Taking on the Kings Mar. 3 at the Staples Center, Phoenix holds a two point edge on L. A. The Kings are fresh off the biggest deal of the trading deadline when they acquired Dustin Penner from the Oilers.
"We need to put this one behind us, have a strong practice, and get ready for the L. A.," said defenseman Keith Yandle. "They're fighting for their playoff lives, just like us."
Then, Detroit comes in Saturday Mar. 5, and followed by the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks Mar. 8, also at Jobing.com Arena. The three game home stand concludes with Calgary Mar. 10.
Klesla missed the last 13 games with Columbus with a lower body injury. Tippett said there was some rust associated with his game, but in general, the coach said he was pleased.
"That's his first game in a while, so it takes some time to get up to speed," Tippett acknowledged. "I thought he meshed pretty well, overall."
Whitney's goal was just his second in his previous 17 games. Also, he missed three games (Feb. 22-25) due to injury.
With two assists, captain Shane Doan had his first multi-point game since Jan. 4 at home against Columbus. He picked up a goal and an assist in that game.