On Dec. 23, and with the latest addition to its Ring of Honor, the Phoenix Coyotes had the first of two ceremonies for two former players planned for this season.
First, Keith Tkachuk’s No. 7 was retired in a pregame ceremony. The Coyotes then took on the St. Louis Blues at Jobing.com Arena. The video was perfect, the hour was ideal and all the right things were said, but there was an empty feeling which permeated the building.
The abyss will likely grow when the Coyotes retire Jeremy Roenick’s No. 97 on Feb. 11, before their contest with the Chicago Blackhawks.
That’s because both Tkachuk and Roenick were high-profile, productive players. Those are qualities that the current Phoenix squad is desperately lacking.
A true case in point was the game which followed Tkachuk’s recognition.
The Coyotes came off a two-game winning streak on the road with victories against the Panthers and Hurricanes. They returned to Jobing.com Arena and their life support monitor at center ice flatlined.
There was no emotion, no verve and little forechecking. The result—a 3-2 defeat to the Blues—demonstrated the need for players like Tkachuk and Roenick to jump-start a sluggish offense, and get the crowd involved.
More importantly, the Coyotes fell under .500 at home to 7-8-2. For a team struggling to stay in the Western Conference playoff race, their production on home ice needs to improve.
“If you told me we would be under .500 at home by Christmas, that’s totally unacceptable,” said coach Dave Tippett. “We need to change they way we do things at home. Something has to be done.”
That may be more of a burden on general manager Don Maloney to try and get more speed and aggressiveness. Then again, the Coyotes have the personnel to bang bodies. Taylor Pyatt, at 6'4", 228 pounds, Martin Hanzel, at 6'6", and Kyle Chipchura, at 6'2", need to be more active.
Against the Blues, the Coyotes came out skating in sand. They managed two shots on Blues goalie Brian Elliott in the first 11 minutes of the game and just 6 in the opening period. Tippett had an explanation for this game, but his theory may not be consistent with the Coyotes’ pressing needs.
“Both teams came out sluggish and that usually happens after a ceremony,” he said in reference to the Tkachuk induction to the Ring of Fame. “I thought we picked it up in the second. Then we got behind, and when we get behind, we can’t play our game. Now it becomes a struggle.”
Though captain Shane Doan scored 44 seconds after Alexander Steen’s goal, which gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead at 7:12 of the second period, Coyotes played catch-up all night.
Goals by Matt D’Agostini, late in the second, and Jason Arnott, early in the third, pushed the Blues ahead by 3-1. Keith Yandle’s tally at 13:39 of the final period narrowed the gap to one goal, but Coyotes could draw no closer.
Still, the Phoenix effort drew praise from the opposition.
“They’re an experienced team and they play the game the right way,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “They are well coached and these are going to be close, hard-fought games all year.”
Perhaps, but the Coyotes need an injection of the spirit and verve which dominated the play of Tkachuk and Roenick. Right now, it’s no secret the Coyotes lack fire power and a hitter in the corners to rattle the opposition and wake up the fans.
On the Ice
Hanzel was struck in the side of the face by the stick of David Backus of the Blues just 37 seconds into the third period. Hanzel did not return and Tippett said after the game he did not see Hanzel after the final buzzer.
Elsewhere: Yandle’s goal late in the game was his fifth of the season, and the first since he scored at Nashville Dec. 6. Doan’s goal was just the second in his last 12 games. In games through Dec. 23, Doan has had just four multi-point games this season.
After Christmas Break
The Coyotes open against the Kings at the Staples Center on Dec. 26 and then quickly return home for a date with the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Bruins, on Dec. 28. Then it’s back on the road for seven of their next eight.
Quotes in this story were obtained by the author in postgame interviews, St. Louis at Phoenix, Dec. 23, 2011.