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Coyotes ups and downs emblematic of growing pains

Arizona Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker (89), of Denmark, is defended by Nashville Predators' Mike Fisher (12) in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett offered a succinct explanation for his team’s latest up-and-down act, a 5-2 loss in Nashville on Tuesday.

“Most people look at up and down in terms of the final score of games,” Tippett said. “We had some results in those three games at home so people think we’re up.

“I look at it much deeper than that.”

By whatever measure you want to use, the Coyotes’ early success is partly a mirage that can’t be sustained if certain areas of their game don’t improve.

If you like mainstream analytics, the team’s Corsi For percentage of 46.8 is tied with Florida for 25th in the NHL. The Coyotes are tied for 26th in scoring chance plus-minus (minus 45) according to War On Ice, and the Coyotes are fifth in PDO (combined save percentage and shooting percentage) at 1.019.  Teams should be around 1.000, suggesting the Coyotes should regress at some point.

If you prefer traditional stats, the Coyotes have the third-worst average shot differential in the NHL (minus 3.9), the sixth-least productive special teams and the league’s eighth-worst save percentage.

If you ask Tippett, who doesn’t divulge his own complex set of analytics, you’ll get a less nuanced but blunter explanation.

“We’re making too many mistakes,” he said. “It’s not any one area, it’s just execution to move the game ahead. Any place on the ice where you get the puck and have the ability to make a good play, we haven’t been good enough.”

There were glaring examples of this on Tuesday. With his team leading 2-1 early in the third period, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson tried to thread a pass through the middle of the ice and up to a forward instead of recognizing the game and play situations and making the smart play to clear the puck up the boards into a safe area.

Nashville center Mike Ribeiro picked off the pass and buried it past goalie Mike Smith, whose 36 saves did not begin to tell the story of how well he played with seemingly no help.

About two minutes after Ribeiro’s goal, Nicklas Grossmann’s errant pass was intercepted, the Predators kept the puck in the zone and eventually took the lead on Filip Forsberg’s goal from the slot.

Those weren’t the only examples, however. There were mistakes made in all three zones, whether through lack of poise, poor decisions or an inability to win battles.

The mistakes are a reminder of how much work Tippett and his staff have to do and how much growth this team still has ahead of it, but the mistakes are also a reminder that this roster is far from perfect. The center position still doesn’t stack up against other clubs in terms of skill, the team still lacks a puck moving defenseman to help with zone exits and perhaps on the power play, there are bottom-six forwards who probably still could be upgraded and there is youth everywhere, which normally means there are mistakes everywhere.

“There is growth and then there are growing pains,” Tippett said. “We’ve had some growing pains in our last few games.”

Coyotes at Red Wings

When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Injury report: Arizona — F Shane Doan (lower body) and F Steve Downie (upper body) both skated Wednesday. Coach Dave Tippett said Downie has a chance to return Thursday but Doan is less certain. Both will be re-evaluated in the morning. F Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone) did not travel with the team. Detroit — F Johan Franzen (concussion) is on long-term injured reserve. D Kyle Quincey (ankle) is out until at least late January.

Scouting the Red Wings: Detroit has earned points in eight consecutive games (5-0-3). … F Henrik Zetterberg leads the team with 20 points and 16 assists. … C Dylan Larkin leads all rookies with 10 goals and is third with 18 points in 25 games. … Jimmy Howard will start in goal.

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