For the past 18 months the Phoenix Coyotes have been a fairly competitive team on the ice, setting team records last season in wins and points while advancing to the playoffs as a 4 seed and this season respectfully battling it out in the very competitive western conference.
Off the ice during this time, it has been utter mayhem with bankruptcy and relocation dominating the headlines. As we detailed last week, the off ice uncertainty may be at its end with Matthew Hulsizer and his group imminently completing the purchase of the team from the NHL. Unfortunately, the team has not responded to their new-found off-ice stability with winning hockey.
This week saw the Coyotes embark on an eastern conference road swing through the Atlantic Division with games in New Jersey, New York, Long Island and Pittsburgh over the past 5 days. Unfortunately, the Coyotes only have 3 points to show for their efforts, as they stumbled to a 1-2-1 record in the east coast portion of this six game road trip. The Coyotes are now 15-10-7 for 37 points, good for 5th in the Pacific and 10th overall in the Western Conference. That may seem dire, but the Coyotes have lots of games in hand over the teams ahead of them, so they should move up those standings as they catch up, if they start to play better.
Wednesday, December 15 @ New Jersey, 3-0 Loss
About midway through the first period, the Coyotes gave up a quick odd-man rush and struggling super-star and Lou Lamorello whipping boy Ilya Kovalchuk netted a goal for the Devils, giving them an early lead. That was about the time when I started having a bad feeling about this road trip. The Devils, mired in a terrible season, handled the Coyotes seemingly easily as Martin Brodeur recorded his 114th career shutout and the road trip was off to an ominous start.
Thursday, December 16 @ New York Rangers, 4-3 Loss (SO)
With Ilya Bryzgalov nursing the mysterious upper body injury and heading back to Phoenix, the Coyotes were forced to find an emergency back-up in former collegiate goalie and current college coach Tom Fenton. Fenton wouldn't see any official ice time as Jason LaBarbera was good enough against the Rangers, but he has enjoyed his fairly remarkable 15 minutes of fame. LaBarbera made a costly gaffe in the waning seconds of the second period in this game which allowed former Coyote, Brandon Prust to score a short-handed goal that pulled the Rangers to within one after the Coyotes established leads of 2-0 and 3-1. A third period tally by rookie Derek Stepan sent the game to overtime and then the shootout where the Coyotes could not solve Martin Biron and picked up their second straight loss.
Saturday, December 18 @ New York Islanders, 4-3 Win (SO)
Playing against the worst team in the NHL, the Coyotes showed that their biggest problem (at times) is their willingness to play down to their competition. Despite taking an early lead on a Radim Vrbata power play goal, the Coyotes never pushed the lead to more than one and back-to-back second period tallies within just over a minute gave the Islanders an improbable 2-1 lead. The team traded goals early in the third and Martin Hanzal scored with just under 90 seconds remaining to force overtime. The Coyotes scored on all three attempts against Islanders rookie Nathan Lawson including a nifty game winner from Kyle Turris. It was a well-earned victory given the come-from-behind nature, but this is one the Coyotes should have dominated from the start.
Monday, December 20 @ Pittsburgh, 6-1 Loss
Nothing worth noting about this game as the Coyotes were completely ineffective in every facet of the game: giving up three power play goals to the Penguins; five points to Evgeni Malkin; failing to convert on extended back-to-back 5-on-3 advantages; and just generally being beaten physically by a team that just wanted it more than them. The only bright spot seemed to be the play of back-up Matt Climie, who was not awful. I'm glad I'm not going to be on the plane with Coach Tippett for the flight back to Phoenix after this awful display. Wojtek Wolski recorded the lone Phoenix goal on a shot that caught him in the head it appeared and deflected past Marc-Andre Fleury.
This week, the Coyotes hit the road for two Pacific Division match-ups traveling on Thursday to San Jose and then on Sunday against Dallas. With the teams ahead of them continuing to gather points, the Coyotes need to get back to their fierce forechecking style and solid defensive play. Hopefully the days off have healed Ilya Bryzgalov and the team will be at full strength going into the Shark Tank, always a tough place to play.