When the calendar flips to January in the NHL, the stakes are high regardless of the opponent.
But when an opponent also happens to be a divisional foe and the league's points leader, the stakes become, well, that much more important.
The Phoenix Coyotes knew as much heading into Saturday's Western Conference clash with the Anaheim Ducks, but once the puck dropped at Jobing.com Arena they indescribably looked flat and disinterested in the task at hand.
Outside of a second-chance tally by Lauri Korpikoski in the opening period, the Coyotes found themselves utterly outclassed by the visiting Ducks. After 40 minutes of play and a goaltender change later, Phoenix trailed 4-1 with little to no chance of getting back into the contest.
While Mike Ribeiro and Martin Hanzal recorded their 11th and 13th goals of the season respectively late in the third period, it proved incidental, as the Ducks skated to their fifth straight win by a final of 5-3.
With the win, Anaheim secured its first season sweep of the Coyotes since the franchise was still based in Winnipeg back in 1993-94. For Phoenix, it put a rather fitting bow on an ugly 2-4-0 home stand.
After the two-goal defeat, Coyotes captain Shane Doan didn't mince his words when talking about the state of the team.
"Right now, we're not very good," Doan said. "We haven't been very good for awhile. We've been fooling ourselves, finding ways to come back and get points and tie games and get to overtime in the last month-and-a-half. We haven't been good enough."
Following the loss to the Ducks, the Coyotes will embark on a mini two-game road swing to Winnipeg and then St. Louis. While Phoenix only sits two points out of the second Wild Card spot out west, the 17-year veteran reiterated that the standings won't matter much if he and his teammates don't drastically improve their play.
"We have to be better as a group," said Doan. "To a man, you have to be better. I have to be better. Yanz has to be better. Marty has to be better. As a group, we have to be better. That starts with our goaltending right on out to our defense to our forwards.
"You have to find ways to contribute more as each individual guy and do your job. We talk about keeping it simple and doing the little things, but as a group we tend to get away from that. When we get away from that, we get in trouble. We've shown lately that we can't handle too much adversity. We have to keep it simple."