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Off the Ice: Coyotes season boiling down to a matter of will

Few National Hockey League teams are better at controlling their own fate than the Phoenix Coyotes.

A team that looked bad on paper made it to the Western Conference Finals last season. A fluke? Hardly. The Coyotes earned their spot by being one of the best defensive teams in the league and limiting mistakes.

In the 2013 season, the Coyotes that looked bad on paper have been, overall, bad on the ice. Flashes of the Coyotes’ playoff fire have been seen, but they either sputter out or, worse yet, are extinguished by the Coyotes themselves.

After a loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, captain Shane Doan said the Coyotes need to find ways to win games. The problem is while they know how to win games, the Coyotes have been very good at losing.

Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett put is best when he said, “I like to think we don’t beat ourselves much, but that’s been the case a few times early here.”

Tippett has always been a believer in his team creating its own luck on the ice, but right now that philosophy is coming up bad. From the beginning of the season, we’ve all heard players and coaches saying the team needs to find a way through it, to battle past it, to persevere.

“Adversity is hitting us right in the face,” Tippett said. “We can either let it beat us up or we can get after it. Usually you earn the right to win.”

The Coyotes aren’t earning anything right now except a measly two points from five games. It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but with the regular season already one-tenth of the way over, it’s time to be concerned. A few wins could bring the team back into the running quickly, but conversely, a few more losses can send them spiraling out of the playoff hunt.

But what if wins are just a momentum shift away? Several times this season, the Desert Dogs have been commanding the game and look poised to win, only to have one small incident — say, a bad goal allowed by Mike Smith or an injury to Matthew Lombardi — that stifles what the team has worked to build all game and sought all season long.

“We have to be better as a group and a team, stick up for each other and be there when we let in a goal,” said forward Mikkel Boedker.

Last season’s Coyotes were resilient and stubborn. They haven’t been the same team this year.

The Coyotes don’t need to find a way around the problem or find ways to win. They need to find a way to quit losing, injuries and excuses aside. No one is going to let them win and, frankly, the only guys who can save the Coyotes are the Coyotes themselves, a concept that is not novel to this squad or its leading members.

“It’s now come down to a matter of will,” Doan said.

He’s damn right.