Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was hoping a 6-2 loss to the Blackhawks was just a blip on the radar. It appears it was. Saturday’s 1-0 shootout win in San Jose continued a trend of tight-checking, low-scoring, point-earning battles the Coyotes have engaged in over the past seven games.
Phoenix is 4-1-2 in that stretch and generally has righted the ship after a shaky start to the season. That the about-face from a disheartening loss to Chicago came on the road against a strong opponent is also a sign that normalcy has been restored to last year’s Western Conference finalist. The Coyotes went 20-14-7 on the road last season, the second-best road mark in the West. As the NHL cognoscenti will tell you, the ability to win consistently on the road is the sign of a mature club and a club capable of contending.
“We responded with a much better effort and of the type of hockey we’re used to playing,” goalie Mike Smith told FOX Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh. “We were disciplined in all areas all over the ice.
“Because of the condensed schedule, we don’t have time to let it go on for two or three games. We knew how important it was to come in here and have a great effort.”
Perhaps the best effort came from Smith, who posted his second shutout of the season and the 21st of his career.
“He was excellent. He made some big saves at the right time,” Tippett told Walsh. “Obviously, if you don’t give up any goals in the game or the shootout, your goalie gives you a chance to win.”
It’s a bit early to talk about the playoff race, but one look at the standings shows the Coyotes on the outside looking in. Phoenix is in 10th place in the West, one point behind St. Louis, Dallas, and Edmonton.
Getting points against the struggling Avalanche on Monday in Denver would seem a safer bet than doing the same in the finale to this trip, which comes Thursday in Nashville against a Predators club eager for payback after the Coyotes eliminated them from the conference semifinals last season.
Colorado is tied for last in the West with eight points and has dropped its last two games, both at home.
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
Special needs: Offense has been a problem for the Avs, who are 26th in the league at 2.1 goals per game, but special teams may be the greater concern. Colorado owns the league’s second-worst power play unit, converting at just a 9.1 percent clip. And the penalty-killing unit hasn’t been much better, killing off 78 percent of opponents’ chances to rank 19th overall.
Missing in action: Colorado outshot Anaheim 31-20 on Wednesday but lost 3-0. There’s a pretty good reason the Avs aren’t finishing. Aside from the fact that Colorado is the lone NHL team without a goal from its defense, the Avs are missing an entire forward line. Steve Downie played just two games before he was lost for the season with a right knee injury, and Gabriel Landeskog is also on IR with a concussion. But perhaps the most maddening missing piece is restricted free-agent holdout Ryan O’Reilly, arguably one of the top 10 centers in the league at the tender age of 22. According to Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, the Avs want to pay O’Reilly in the neighborhood of two years and $3.5 million per year. O’Reilly wants five years and about $5 million per year. It’s a confusing situation when you consider the Avs gave P.A. Parenteau and David Jones $16 million each over four years while O’Reilly is arguably the team’s best player. But it may have something to do with his age and trying to squeeze him on a second contract before his worth fully blossoms, a tactic employed by many a GM to emerging young players to ensure cap stability. Whatever the reasons, the Avs are suffering mightily on the stat sheet. If the holdout continues — Dater reported that the two sides are talking again — you have to wonder if the Avs will start thinking about trading O’Reilly. There was even a rumor that had him going to the Coyotes earlier this season, although the dollar figures make that seem unlikely.
A decade of decline: Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg led the Avs to a pair of Stanley Cups (in 1996 and 2001) and many glorious seasons. But Roy retired in 2003, Forsberg left Colorado in 2004 and Sakic’s game slowly slipped until his retirement in 2009. Since Roy retired, the Avs have won just three playoff series while missing the postseason altogether four times. The past four seasons have featured the four lowest point totals — 69, 95, 68, 88 — since the club relocated from Quebec in 1995, with the 95-point mark tying the previous low. That likely explains why the Avs’ attendance has slipped so badly in recent seasons. Last year, Colorado averaged 15,133 fans to rank 26th in the NHL.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Give him a set of pads: Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek had an eye-popping eight blocks against the Sharks on Saturday to give him the team lead with 36 this season. The last Coyotes player to block that many shots in a game? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was Z himself, who had eight on Feb. 12, 2009, in a 4-3 loss to Vancouver. The last player to have more blocks in a game was defenseman Jamie Rivers, who had nine in a 6-2 Coyotes win over the Kings on March 14, 2006.
He’s got your number: Since Dave Tippett took over the coaching reins in 2009, Phoenix is 8-3-1 against Colorado and has outscored the Avalanche 39-22.
Consistency coming? Mike Smith’s second shutout of the season on Saturday in San Jose gave him 10 over the past two seasons. That ties L.A.’s Jonathan Quick for the most shutouts over that span (Quick posted all 10 of his last season). Smith’s .888 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against average this year are still troubling, but 12 of the 20 goals he’s allowed this season have come against the red-hot Blackhawks, and the Coyotes don’t play them again until April 20 at the United Center.
For the Coyotes, F Matthew Lombardi (shoulder) and D David Schlemko (shoulder) are out indefinitely. F Martin Hanzal (undisclosed) is day-to-day but the Coyotes remain hopeful he will play in Denver after suffering what appears to be a minor injury in San Jose. For the Avalanche, F Steve Downie (right knee) is out for the year. F Gabriel Landeskog (concussion) is on IR but could resume skating soon.