GLENDALE, Ariz. — Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers was supposed to be all about Shane Doan’s return to the ice, with the Phoenix Coyotes’ captain finally playing after a month away due to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Instead, it turned out to be about another missed opportunity for a Coyotes team that is, well, beginning to make a habit of missing opportunities.
“We get up 3-1 we’ve got to find a way, we’ve got to get that next one to put the game away,” Doan said after his team coughed up a 3-1 second period lead and ended up losing 5-3. “And give them credit, they battled hard and got the next one and came back and we just can’t afford to do that, especially with the way the West is.
“You get a two-goal lead, you’ve got to find a way to win that game.”
But they did not. Goals from Rob Klinkhammer, Lori Korpikoski and Mikkel Boedker went wasted, and along with a bitter taste, the loss leaves the Coyotes with a 20-12-9 mark at the season’s midway point.
“We started turning pucks over,” goalie Mike Smith said. “You turn pucks over you lose momentum and then it ends up being in your end instead of you playing in the offensive zone where a team is most successful and when you do that, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Smith stopped 23 of the 27 shots he faced Saturday, with the Flyers’ fifth goal being put into an empty net. It was a spotty performance from both the goalie and the team around him, and it’s something that concerns coach Dave Tippett.
“Turnovers and not playing smart,” he lamented. “Pucks that should be going ahead, pucks that should get out on the walls, things like that.
“It’s about getting plays made that push the game along and we’ve been a really good team at that for a long time and there has been too many instances this year where a simple play has got to be made, sometimes it’s not a simple play, it’s a hard play of just getting a puck out or winning a battle and getting a puck out that’s got to get made, and it’s not.”
Simply put, the Coyotes are not playing winning hockey.
The good news, of course, is that things could be worse. There is still a half a season left, and the Coyotes are still very much in the postseason picture. But at this point in the campaign, Tippett expected his team to be past some of the issues that are still plaguing it.
“We don’t recognize situations well enough and we don’t play well enough in a lot of situations,” the coach said. “Right now we have been inconsistent. Our goaltending has been inconsistent, the scoring was good early and we kind of let that down. Our goals against is nowhere near where it has to be and that penalty kill, and goaltending again goes in those brackets, and those are all areas continuing to be areas of concern.”
Saturday, the Coyotes went 0-for-4 on the power play and were outshot 14-9 in the decisive third period. The last three goals of the game belonged to the Flyers, which is the sign of a good opponent as well as, perhaps, a Phoenix team that needs to learn how to win games again.
“When this team has been good, when we’re up 3-1, our best players are our best players and we don’t give teams a chance to get back in games, and right now we’re turning pucks over in the wrong areas of the ice,” Smith said. “I understand there are times to make plays but there are times in games where you have leads where you live to fight another day.”
The problem, as Smith put it, was his team was taking unnecessary risks with the puck, and it ended up backfiring.
“It’s frustrating to see the turnovers when it’s not necessary in games.”
At times this season, the Coyotes have looked like a team capable of making a deep postseason run. However, like they did Saturday, the team has also shown it can struggle in some fairly dumbfounding ways.
With 49 points, they are in a tie for the eighth-best record in the Western Conference.
“We’re at average,” Doan said. “We can be better than average. We’re not by any means out of it, but at the same time we haven’t put ourselves in the best position, and the fact that we’re in one of the battles for the last spots right now and we’re on a climb.
“We think we’re better than that and we think we can be better than that, and I expect us to be better than that in the second half.”