‘Disheartening’: Coyotes blow a lead again, lose to struggling Wild
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Head coach Rick Tocchet was calm and respectful in answering questions after the Arizona Coyotes’ game against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday — not that anyone could’ve blamed him if he had been more emotional and animated.
But he seemed frustrated. Why wouldn’t he be? The Coyotes had 2-0 and 3-1 leads in a game Saturday against the Wild, but lost 4-3. It’s part of an unsettling trend.
It was the fourth consecutive game in which the Coyotes had a lead and lost it in the second period or later. The first game of that streak resulted in an overtime win in Edmonton, but the last three games have yielded two regulation losses (vs. Columbus, vs. Minnesota) and one overtime loss (at Calgary).
“We’re giving up some chances in the slot that we haven’t given up the first 10, 11 games,” head coach Rick Tocchet said.
“I don’t know if it’s not [enough] practice time, I’m not sure. But we’ve got to buckle down here. We’re in control of the game and we just give them life. And it happened the other night. Just an unfocused play here or there. And we need some individuals to play better.”
Undoubtedly, it was a bad loss to a struggling team at a time when the Coyotes needed a turnaround from the ugliness that had come in the games prior. What’s more, the next three games are a back-to-back in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, Mo. after only one day of rest, followed by another single day of rest before a game at Minnesota.
Washington and St. Louis happen to be the last two Stanley Cup winners.
“It’s going to be a real tough trip,” forward Brad Richardson said. “I don’t know who’s doing the scheduling for the NHL, but it’s going to be tough.”
For some perspective, the Coyotes are a respectable 9-6-2. They have exhibited stretches of very good hockey this season against good teams. All hope is not lost. But the after a loss to Columbus on Thursday, Tocchet called the blown leads “pissin’ points away,” and he used that phrase again Saturday.
“We’re still fine. We’ve still got a half-decent record, but we’re, just like I said, pissin’ points away, when we shouldn’t,” he said. “Because you want to have these points in the bank if something really bad happens. A bunch of injuries or we’re on this tough trip or tough schedule, whatever.
“So it’s nice to have those points in the bank and we’re just giving them away because of unfocused plays.”
The Coyotes played a two-game homestand and earned zero points in the standings against Columbus (6-7-3) and Minnesota (6-10-1), the latter of which entered Saturday tied for the fewest points in the standings in the entire league.
“We have no credibility to disrespect any team. We don’t,” Tocchet said.
“This is the NHL. There are 900 players that are the best in the world here. So you’ve got to respect everybody. So we have no credibility to think we can just go out there and, ‘We’re the Coyotes, we can just roll over teams.’ We’re out of our mind if we think that way.”
Tocchet seemed somewhat dismissive of the notion that negative momentum had been building on itself since the streak of blown games began Tuesday in Calgary.
“To me, it’s a game-to-game thing,” Tocchet said. “You’re a professional. You let things go and you strap it on and you get focused again.”
THE GAME ITSELF
Arizona’s game against the Wild on Saturday started hot. The Coyotes dominated and spent most of the time in the offensive zone for the first few minutes, and that eventually resulted in the game’s first goal by Michael Grabner at 8:50 in the first period. Jakob Chychrun made it 2-0 at the 12:40 mark on a one-timer.
The Wild cut it to 2-1 in the opening minutes of the second period when a big rebound off the pad of Darcy Kuemper gave an open look to Mikko Koivu. After Vinnie Hinostroza made it 3-1, the Wild cut it to 3-2 with another rebound goal — this time by Kevin Fiala.
“I think we’ve got to realize that we’re a really good team but it takes more than just being a good team to win,” Kuemper said. “You’ve got to stay detailed and remember it’s little things that make us successful. I’m not sure what happened, we got up a little bit and it seemed like we got away from our gameplan.
“Obviously I’ve got to be better, too. It’s hard to win if you give up four.”
In the final minutes of the second period, Kevin Fiala fed a wide-open Matt Dumba up high and he scored on a hard slap-shot. That made it 3-3 at second intermission.
On the game-winning goal, nobody went to cover a streaking Jared Spurgeon, who was skating to a loose puck in the corner. That resulted in a complete defensive breakdown by the Coyotes forward line of Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan and Conor Garland, and left a wide-open Ryan Hartman to accept a pass and score.
That made it 4-3.
“Just be responsible. And ownership of your game. Those two things would be really nice. Own your game and have responsibility. Your job. That’s it,” Tocchet said. “The other stuff will take care of itself. You can live with the results, but we’ve given away six points here in the last week by some unfocused plays by some guys. It’s disheartening.”
Arizona out-shot the Wild 35-24. Kuemper made 20 saves.
“I think if you told us that, two, three weeks ago we had a 3-1 lead and we’re going to lose in regulation, I don’t think I would’ve believed you,” Michael Grabner said. “So we’ve got to get back to the basics and play our style of hockey.”
— Center Brad Richardson (lower-body) and defenseman Jordan Oesterle (upper-body) both made their returns to the lineup on Saturday. Jason Demers (lower-body) did not play.
— The Coyotes featured a new top power play unit: Phil Kessel, Jakob Chychrun, Derek Stepan, Carl Soderberg and Nick Schmaltz. Arizona went 0-for-3 on the power play, but one of those began with only 12 seconds left in the game.