Off the Ice: It's time for big boy hockey
Well, that sucked.
In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Kings rolled over the Phoenix Coyotes in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals, winning by a score that felt much further spread than the final 4-2 scoreline.
The Kings came out and dominated the first period, outshooting the Coyotes 17-4. They played like a team who knows just how good they are.
The Coyotes lost Game 1. They lost home ice. They lost a bad hockey game in a time of year when bad hockey is not permitted.
"I thought their whole team was better than our team," said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. "We weren't close in that game. We got beat in every facet of the game. Hopefully we take some lessons from it and we can be better next game."
And now it's time to respond.
Game 2 is Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. in Glendale. Between now -- 8:49 p.m. Sunday -- and then, the Coyotes need to step up their game, get their heads straight and play big boy hockey.
The Kings are a great playoff team. They know how to get inside the heads of their opponents and use the resulting frustration to their advantage, exactly what they did to the Coyotes. Dustin Brown was causing problems all over the ice and was drawing their focus away from the play. The Coyotes need to work around this. They need to be the ones frustrating the other team. Too many times there were power play opportunities wasted because a Coyote decided a retaliatory hit was more important than a goal. Cheap shots and the NHL playoffs go hand in hand. Get used to it, get over it and play.
"If you're not willing to take those whacks and take a number, then you're going to be in the penalty box and ultimately hurt our team," said Tippett.
There was a point when the Coyotes quit. I watched it happen. Don't believe me? Let me ask what your definition of quitting is if you don't think that clearly giving up on pucks, careless passing and waiting for something to happen is what happens when a hockey team quits. The score as still close at that time -- 2-2 -- but it looked as if the Coyotes were down 10-0 and playing solid hockey wasn't a priority. It was a very uncharacteristic move by the team, one that doesn't happen to a possible Stanley Cup contender. No matter what, you keep fighting in the playoffs. Always.
The Coyotes don't have star power. The Kings do. That issue can be put to bed. The Coyotes have personally seen some of the biggest names out of the playoffs so far, but they didn't play like they are ready to send another batch of talent home. Team play beats stars. Smart play beats stars. Aggressive play beats stars. Coyotes hockey beats stars. It's time for the team to get back to their style, not what showed up during Game 1.
As the playoffs go on, the bar gets higher and higher," said Tippett. "You have some players that can rise with the bar and we didn't have enough guys rise with the bar tonight. We had some games like this, but not to the point where we got out-competed as bad as we did."
The NHL playoffs are a nervy business, something that hasn't really affected the Coyotes until this series. In the opening period, they looked scared of the Kings. They were aggressive, but they weren't laying hits on like the Coyotes we've seen. The amount of turnovers was appalling. The shots taken were weak and often ended up in the puck going out of the zone. Instead of responding to the Kings, the Coyotes seemed to accept their role as the losing team. They looked intimidated. That won't win a game, let alone a series.
Thankfully, it's only Game 1. This is no time to slap the panic button or ask about the likelihood of the team "bouncing back" to take down the Kings. The tone is now set and the Coyotes have time to take a step back, talk amongst themselves and figure out a way to play their game, not beat the Kings. You don't beat a team in the playoffs, your game does. If a team plays their system and sticks to it, more times than not it disrupts their opponent and leads to victories.
"The will to get things done is going to have to improve greatly if we're going to have a chance in this series," said Tippett.
The Kings have fired the first shot. How the Coyotes respond in Game 2 will make all the difference in the series.
It's time for the Coyotes to take a breath and play big boy hockey.