Missed a week, I believe for the holidays, so we'll simply recap the past two as they were remarkably similar weeks for the Phoenix Coyotes - play a great game, then a not-so-great game; repeat ad nauseum. Over the past two weeks, the Coyotes compiled a record of 2-3-1. They currently sit in the 12th position of the Western Conference with 42 points and a record of 17-13-8, albeit only five points out of the 4th position. As I'm fairly certain I've mentioned, the West is ridiculously even this year.
Before we get to the game-by-game recaps, a quick note that the Coyotes did a fabulous job with their Back-To-Back Buck Bash promotion during the two game homestand last Tuesday and Wednesday. Crowds of around 15,000 for each game enjoyed dollar beverages, hot dogs and other goodies, while still paying full ticket price - a good job by the marketing department to get fans into the building; unfortunately the team's on-ice performance was only noteworthy for one of those games.
Thankfully, it was the first game that the Five For Howling crew spent in the press box, and we were able to get some good video capturing the experience.
Thursday, December 23 @ San Jose, 4-1 Loss
This was a game that was marred by some questionable officiating as the Coyotes paraded to the penalty box throughout the evening. The first calls were automatic delays of game that the refs can't botch up, but starting with the penalty to Shane Doan for roughing, the officiating became worse and worse, and the Coyotes PK allowed the Sharks to score goals on each questionable call. Patrick Marleau led the charge for the Sharks with two goals and a helper and Ray Whitney scored the lone Coyotes goal on the power play off a great feed from Keith Yandle.
Sunday, December 26 @ Dallas, 1-0 Win
Jason LaBarbera, making his fifth consecutive start for the injured Ilya Bryzgalov had his best game of the stretch, anchoring a solid defensive game with his first shutout of the season. The best save of the night came on a penalty shot by Coyotes-killer Loui Eriksson midway through the second period. Kyle Turris scored the lone Coyotes goal charging the net and potting a rebound off a Shane Doan shot that Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen could not corral.
Tuesday, December 28 vs. Anaheim, 3-1 Loss
Defensive lapses (looking at you Ed Jovanovski), bad turnovers (ditto Sami Lepisto) and general rust (Ilya Bryzgalov) doomed the Coyotes in their first game home in almost three weeks against the Ducks. The Coyotes came out flat footed in the first period and allowed the Ducks to take a 3-0 lead on goals from Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul and Corey Perry, but after the first twenty minutes, it was the Jonas Hiller show. The Coyotes made a hard push to get back in this one, but only a Shane Doan one-timer on the power play got past the Anaheim net-minder, as the Coyotes were held to just one goal for the fourth consecutive game.
Wednesday, December 29 vs. Los Angeles, 6-3 Win
For all the offensive woes, and random injuries, that were plaguing the team leading up to this match-up, I'm sure that most of the fans and coaches were not expecting good things. Coach Tippett had mildly laid into the team the previous night about certain veterans not putting up the numbers needed for the Coyotes to succeed and at least one of those players took him to heart. Scottie Upshall, pointless in his previous ten games, potted a goal and two assists in the first twenty minutes of a raucous game with the Kings. Brett MacLean, in his NHL debut, scored a power play goal on his first shot of the game, and his line with youngsters Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker wreaked havoc on the LA defense all night (unfortunately, Boedker and MacLean have both returned to San Antonio following the returns of injured forwards Taylor Pyatt, Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal).
Shane Doan was once again oh-so-close to recording his first career hat trick as he notched two goals and rang a third off the post on a deflection of a Derek Morris slap-pass late in the third. Bryzgalov looked shaky in the first, but as the Coyotes picked up play through the final forty minutes, he tightened his game and held the Kings in check.
Friday, December 31 @ St. Louis, 4-3 Loss
This score makes it look closer than it was, as the Coyotes mounted a late comeback effort that fell short against the Blues. Shane Doan, en route to being named the 2nd Star of the Week by the NHL, recorded his second consecutive two-goal performance and 37th of his career, most for any player without a hat trick. Unfortunately, I missed most of this game, but suffice it to say, the Coyotes third period performance battling back was good to see even if it did fall short. That was a staple of last year's squad an something the team needs to get back to if they are going to climb back into a post-season slot this year.
Sunday, January 2 @ Minnesota, 6-5 Los (OT)
A wild game in Minnesota as the Coyotes would fall victim to the dreaded goal in the last minute of a period, not once, but twice. The Coyotes held an early 1-0 lead on a Ray Whitney goal and looked to be cruising to the first intermission when a defensive lapse from Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin allowed the Wild's Andre Brunette to get behind everyone and tap it past Jason LaBarbera to tie the game. The second period was all Wild, as they scored twice and the Coyotes showed very little to suggest that a third period explosion was coming.
Who knows what was said in the locker room, but the Coyotes came out on first scoring two goals a mere thirteen seconds apart to tie the game at 3. After allowing Minnesota to once again claim the lead, the Coyotes would score two more goals - one a beauty by Ed Jovanovski on a slick Keith Yandle pass, the other a beauty on a second and third effort by the Wizard (Ray Whitney) to take a 5-4 lead. Unfortunately, with the goalie on the bench, Minnesota scored the equalizer with just 30 seconds left in the game and added the game winner on a weak shot through LaBarbera early in the overtime period.
The Week Ahead
No rest for the weary as the Coyotes have three games scheduled for this week starting tonight at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets who are right in the Western scrum sitting right above the Coyotes with 42 points. On Thursday, the Desert Dogs travel to Colorado to face the Avalanche who currently occupy the 8th slot with 45 points. Finally, on Saturday night the team returns home to face the Buffalo Sabres who are struggling mightily in the East. Hopefully, the Coyotes will continue to see some push from their forwards and a few 60 minute efforts that match the third period in Minnesota.