Canadian perspective: It’s good to be talking playoffs
Kyle Chipchura (right) and Michael Stone are among the Coyotes' Canadian players who appreciate the thrill of the playoff chase, a feeling that many hockey fans and Canada are learning to live without.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — We take a break from this pogo stick of a playoff race to remind you that things could be worse. The Coyotes could be out of the race. The Coyotes could be one of several Canadian teams. The Coyotes could be (and once were) the Winnipeg Jets.
Phoenix will get a look at the Jets on Tuesday, and the going-nowhere-again Edmonton Oilers on Friday at Jobing.com Arena before embarking on their final road trip of the season to Columbus and Nashville.
As frustrating as this season has been for Coyotes fans with all its twists and turns, imagine the angst in hockey-crazed Canada for Jets, Oilers, Flames, Canucks, Senators and especially Maple Leafs fans.
With less than two weeks remaining in the NHL’s regular season, six of Canada’s seven teams are out of playoff position. Only the Montreal Canadiens are in solid position. Only the Leafs, who are collapsing for a third straight year with eight straight losses, possess a realistic chance of climbing back in.
Jets at Coyotes
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Jobing.com Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Records: Winnipeg 33-33-10; Phoenix 36-27-12
Season series: Winnipeg leads 2-0
Scouting the Jets: Winnipeg blew a 4-0 lead and lost, 5-4, in overtime at Anaheim on Monday. The Jets’ slide out of playoff contention coincided with a season-ending injury to second-line center Mark Scheifele (sprained MCL), robbing the Jets of a very good player and precious depth up the middle. Winnipeg recalled D Ben Chiarot and Zach Redmond from St. John’s of the AHL on Sunday. F Blake Wheeler leads the team with 27 goals and 64 points. Jets D Zach Bogosian (upper body) missed Monday’s game and is day-to-day. D Grant Clitsome (back surgery), and Fs Scheifele, Chris Thorburn (broken foot) and James Wright (sprained ankle) are on injured reserve.
"Everyone’s got that attitude where they’re just waiting for it to fall apart," said Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette, who was born about 80 miles outside Toronto in Welland, Ontario, and understands the psyche of the Maple Leaf fan. "It’s almost like the old Boston Red Sox where everyone just expected something to go wrong. It seems like they’ve just got to overcome the overall attitude and aura of the city and their fan base."
Toronto’s psyche aside, things are much worse in Winnipeg and Edmonton. The Jets haven’t been to the playoffs since they were the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007, and the Oilers, once the toast of Canada, haven’t been to the postseason since 2006.
"When you lose that long, even the diehard fans get tired of it," said Coyotes forward Kyle Chipchura, who grew up about 50 miles north of Edmonton in Westlock, Alberta. "Hope has turned into anger with the team. You always hear about the glory days, and you’re always proud to be from a city where Wayne Gretzky played, but those days seem far gone for Oilers fans now."
Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone was born in Winnipeg, but his perspective on the Jets’ drought since returning to the city in 2011 are filtered through his mom.
"My mom gets frustrated with the fans," said Stone, noting how some Jets fans were angry with captain Andrew Ladd when he chose to be with his wife for the birth of their daughter rather than play in a critical game against the Dallas Stars. "She’s like, ‘enough is enough with these people.’ " She can understand that players are actually human beings, too, and we have lives."
Bissonnette joked that the lack of media pressure is why players choose to play in Phoenix, but kidding aside, the Canadian Coyotes all acknowledged the obvious, that it’s much better to be scratching and clawing for a playoff spot than it is to have no shot at the postseason.
"If you give me the druther, I know which one I’m picking," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
Goalie Mike Smith skated Monday before practice, exactly one week after he injured his right knee. Among the things he did were shuffling from side to side to simulate lateral movement in the crease.
Smith’s timeline hasn’t changed (there really isn’t one anyway). He will be re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff this weekend, but at this point, it’s about how his knee respnds to the on-ice work and probably how much discomfort he can tolerate.
"I’m not sure where he’s at, but just getting back on the ice and skating around the ice was good to see," Tippett said.
Defenseman David Schlemko (foot), who’s been out since March 6, also skated along with winger Dave Moss, who missed the last game with an ankle injury. Tippett said Moss is questionable for Tuesday’s game.
Defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Zbynek Michalek and center Martin Hanzal took maintenance days but are expected to play Tuesday.