Six games without a win. Six long games full of penalties, a new scoreless record and nothing but frustration.
The Phoenix Coyotes haven’t won a game since Pope Francis was brought in. Maybe they’re not praying enough or they’re still stuck on Benedict, but the time has come for the Coyotes to play do or die hockey.
With just 17 games left this season, the ‘Yotes find themselves just four points adrift of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. That’s only two wins. But that seems nearly impossible, given the team’s lack of confidence and the worst team in the conference, the surging Columbus Blue Jackets, only trailing by four points.
“Right now, we’ve got a lot of players who aren’t playing with a lot of confidence,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett after the team’s 3-2 Monday loss to Detroit, adding that guys have to earn the right to be proud of their play.
The upcoming road trip, just three games long, is going to define the Coyotes’ postseason chances this season. If they somehow manage to bungle it and drop all six points, they’re pretty much out of the race. A nine-game losing streak will likely make them sellers in the market and they’ll quietly go about wrapping up the season. But just four points out of six, a big task but a doable one, can push the ‘Yotes right back into the playoff hunt.
The sad thing is, the Coyotes are not playing that poorly. They’re not winning, but they’re not getting blown out. They’re with the game up until the final whistle, when, somehow, the scoreboard doesn’t read in their favor.
“Right now, we’re finding ways to lose games,” said goaltender Jason LaBarbera. He couldn’t be more right.
The Coyotes have taken 31 penalties in their six-game skid, including two that led to two Red Wings power play goals on Monday, one of which was the game winner. If that’s not finding a way to lose, I’m not sure what is.
As the losing streak has gone on, most players have given variations of the same answer when asked what the team has to do going forward.
“We just have to find a way to find 60 minutes here and just get ourselves out of this hole,” said forward Rob Klinkhammer.
Keep pushing. Find a way. Keep working. All good answers, but, as Tippett said, the team is saying the right things, but not doing them on the ice.
The best way for the Coyotes to pull out of this tailspin is to win. A lot. They need to take it to the opposing teams over the next week, but need to do so with a quiet desperation that gives them an edge, not one that may give the other team an easy chance.
With a system like the Coyotes’, where every guy is important, it’s very easy for one chink in the armor to lead to others. A bad line combination, a mismatch or even a bad pass can sink the Coyotes this season, something Tippett is aware of.
“There’s a lot of things you can try, but we’ll see. This will be a telltale week for us.”
Telltale week? I’d put it more as a season-defining week. Should the Coyotes not play do or die hockey over the next three games, they’ll watch their postseason dreams fade away.