Having a target on your back in the NHL is a tricky business and the Phoenix Coyotes have dropped the ball so far in March.
After an unbelievable February in which the team went 11-0-1, the Coyotes have dropped two bad losses in a row to teams they could have -- and should have -- beaten.
When the win streak finally concluded with Thursday's loss to Calgary, I figured it was time for a bad game. No one likes them, but they are an inevitable fact in sports. Things happen, mistakes are made and no one is perfect. They still held the Pacific Division lead, so there was really no damage done.
But Saturday, the Coyotes blew an opportunity. When every team in the NHL is keeping an eye on your play, you can't drop bad games. Getting beat by a team in a tough battle is one thing, but visibly being the worst team in a loss is another.
The 5-2 loss to Columbus even left head coach Dave Tippett what is going on with a team then went from white-hot to ice-cold in a 48 hour period.
"It was not good enough," he said. "There was an emotional engagement that we can bring in for a short period. Why don't we have that the whole time? That's puzzling for our group right now."
No surprise, but Tip hit the nail on the head. The Coyotes win games because of their emotional play and tight-knit group. They don't have star power or a true "wow" player and that's fine. Hockey is a sport that must be played with emotion in every shift, or the guy who wants it more is going to run all over you.
The lack of energy and effort in the first period Thursday was understandable. Maybe coming down off of the win streak-high or just a natural slump. But Saturday, it was again another lackadaisical team who took the ice and another hole for the Coyotes to dig themselves out of.
"You've got to put the work in and we were just kind of flowing along with the game," said Tippett. "We weren't pursuing the game."
Tip went on to say that the Coyotes weren't showing effort along the boards or in the dirty areas -- things that contributed massively to last month's hot streak.
Captain Shane Doan, the perennial example of a hockey team coming up short, realizes that his team is in the lead now, but the Western Conference is always ready to chew up a team and spit them out in the bottom eight.
"We recognize that we don't have two games to give away and at the same time we have to go back to what was making us successful for the previous 11 [games]," he said, adding to Tip's list of areas where the team was slacking on the ice.
The team of February was calling, but the Coyotes of March failed to answer. They've been dropped firmly on their butts by two iffy teams and I think the reality check is complete. They have one of the toughest teams in the NHL -- Pittsburgh -- up next followed by a back-to-back game with Columbus.
As Lauri Korpikoski said, "Maybe going on the road is not a bad thing for us."
You can bet the Coyotes are going home to take a long look in the mirror tonight and think about how they can get better. It's time to soul search, work stuff out and get back on the ice. While they're at it, maybe they can just send a text to the winning team they were in February to let those guys know the Coyotes of March are ready to answer the call the next time the phone rings.