GLENDALE, Ariz. — The first-ever season of the Arizona Coyotes may have opened with “Let’s get ready to rumble,” but game one certainly closed with a whimper.
Not even the epic inspiration of legendary broadcaster Michael Buffer could breathe life into the Coyotes, who looked lost from the first whistle to the final horn in a 6-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
There were multiple occasions when players looked outright confused, either when they were making an errant pass, missing an assignment on defense or actually running into a fellow player. At one point, during a very, very ugly first period (more on that later), four Coyotes bumped into each other while trying to cover a single Jet. None of them won the puck.
It could have to do with the large amount of change to the Coyotes lines throughout the preseason, but Arizona looked far from the disciplined, well-coached Dave Tippett team to which we’re all accustomed.
The loss is hardly the way the Coyotes needed to start the season. While home losses happen, even in a season opener, a blowout sets a demoralizing tone for the first month of the season.
It will be interesting to see how the team reacts, as it now 7-1-0 in home season openers since the inaugural 1996 season.
Arizona (still feels weird to type that) went 9-3-2 to start the season last year after winning its home opener. Thursday’s butt-whooping is by no means an indicator when it comes to the upcoming games and season, but when a team relying on a communal effort is skating around like chickens with their heads cut off, it doesn’t bode well.
I have a feeling Allen Iverson has the perfect word for the Coyotes after Thursday’s loss: practice.
But, there is a positive spin. Remember that whole Western Conference Finals run? That season started with a 6-1 rout by the San Jose Sharks. A predictor of things to come?
Well, let’s see. Um, the new Gila River signage looked great? The pregame introduction was awesome?
On a serious note, the first Coyotes goal was a demonstration of how an offense should work. Captain Shane Doan received the puck from a somewhat lucky pass behind goaltender Ondrej Pavelec’s net and held it. He threaded a beautiful pass through three Jets and found a waiting Mikkel Boedker about 20 feet from goal. His laser of a wrist shot pinged off the crossbar, over Pavelec’s glove and found the net.
The lone Coyote who looked like he felt like playing was Doan, the oldest player on Arizona’s roster. While moving a little slow early on, Captain Coyote did what he does best when his team needs a spark: crushed people and outworked kids 15 years his junior. He was the bright spot for the team, and he gave fans a brief moment of respite when he dropped his gloves against Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler and made quick work of him. His assist midway through the third period was the icing on the cake.
“That’s what he does,” Tippett said of his captain’s play.
The first period (OK, the entire game) could have been prettier. The Jets jumped out to a 1-0 lead off a Bryan Little goal, but the Coyotes answered back through Boedker seconds later.
Then, well, then things got bad. Wheeler put in two goals in a 15-second time span. Add in another tally from the Jets a little later on for a four-goal first period (something the Coyotes only allowed a couple of times last year and both times on an open net) and seven penalties (read that again: SEVEN), things could have gone a little better to start the season.
The penalty parade continued throughout the game, with Arizona accumulating a whopping 21 minutes. Also, it’s worth noting essential players were taking the penalties. Players like Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Antoine Vermette all logged some time in the sin bin.
Mike Smith was hardly stellar in his season debut. He allowed six goals on 27 shots and really should have saved at least three of them. It may just be jitters, but he looked shaky nearly the entire game. Winnipeg’s second goal came as he was sliding to cover the post. The puck hit his stick, bounced up between his legs and the rout was on.
“We need better goaltending than that,” Tippett said after the game. “Smitty would tell you that right straight out too.”
If every factor of the game remained the same and Smith doesn’t make mental errors, the score would have been 3-2.
“It doesn’t matter if you lose 3-2 or 6-2, whatever it is,” Doan said. “The next game, you have to win.”
STAT OF THE GAME
Coyotes winger Martin Erat was not good. Every minute he was on the ice, it felt like the Coyotes were playing 5-on-4 in his 11:39 of ice time. The fact he finished the game with a minus-4 says a lot about his defensive lapses and lack of offensive commitment, a trend that carried over from last year.
HE SAID IT
“You’re never as good as you think you are when you win, and we’re not as bad as you think we are right now,” – Doan on his team after the game.
– The Jets and Coyotes have a longstanding history, but Canada is winning the battle. Thursday was the Coyotes’ fifth-straight loss to the Winnipeg franchise.
– The Coyotes have a four-game homestand to open the season. It’s the first time in franchise history and, given Thursday’s performance, probably isn’t a bad thing.
– Doan, drafted by Winnipeg in 1995, is the only remaining original Jet in the National Hockey League.
– The Coyotes welcomed a sellout crowd to the renamed Gila River Arena. The announced attendance was 17,125.
– Two Jets hit a notable scoring tally on Thursday. Toby Enstrom’s first period assist was his 250th career point, and Dustin Byfuglien’s first period assist was his 300th career point.
The Coyotes will look to bounce back at home against the, gulp, Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Saturday at Gila River Arena in Glendale. The early season test for Arizona will begin at 6 p.m. and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.