LOS ANGELES — Not even Radim Vrbata could inject a cure into the Coyotes’ sickly offense. Not even a strong, first-period push could dent the net. Not even a superhuman effort from captain Shane Doan could stop this 2013 roster from skating into franchise infamy.
When the Coyotes finally passed the 12:17 mark of the second period without a goal, they set the franchise record for the longest scoreless streak in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Kings at Staples Center. When they finally departed Southern California shortly before midnight, at least that streak was dead, but Phoenix still finished an 0-4 road trip, and this Pacific Division rivalry had added another log to its recently growing fire.
“Our guys deserved to win tonight,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We played harder than they did. We had more chances than they did. Unfortunately, we got a couple calls that went against us and they dictated the game.”
The obvious one was Dustin Brown’s apparent dive that resulted in a Derek Morris interference call right after the Coyotes had sliced the lead to 2-1.
“All I know is the league was talking long and hard about taking care of some of that this year,” Tippett said, whose team allowed a goal on the ensuing L.A. power play to all but ice the game. “It’s unfortunate it’s not called.”
The play that really had Coyotes fans howling came with L.A. already up 2-0 in the second period. Doan leveled a couple of Kings below the circles before L.A.’s Jake Muzzin caught him with what some believed was a knee-on-knee hit with intent to injure. Doan went down to the ice, hobbled up and challenged Muzzin before officials broke it up and Doan hobbled to the dressing room.
But despite fans’ ire, Doan shrugged it off afterward and Tippett said this: “Two guys colliding. I don’t think there was any intent there on their part.”
Every Coyotes fan remembers the way the Western Conference final ended last season when the Coyotes, frustrated by their inability to solve the eventual Cup champs, took issue with what was a clearer version of a knee-on-knee hit from Dustin Brown on then-Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival.
These teams will meet again April 2 in Phoenix and you can bet this game will be remembered in the context of last season’s bitter playoff loss. What will be long forgotten is this scoreless streak, which reached 245 minutes and 33 seconds before Doan knocked Keith Yandle’s flip from the point right out of the air and into the net, then added another goal in the final minute of play.
Just like the Coyotes ended that streak, they will end this losing streak soon. Our bet is it happens in their very next game on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks at Jobing.com Arena. And when that next win comes, a panic-stricken fan base that feared this trip was the beginning of the end will realize that when every game is played against another Western Conference opponent, there is ample opportunity for a playoff push.
“When you’re beating the teams you’re competing with for those spots you’re gaining two points and taking two from them,” Tippett said before the game, acknowledging that he, too, is far from pushing the panic button. “We’ll get it sorted out.”
The good news is that Vrbata is finally back in the lineup. It may take him a couple games to get up to speed after missing the past 14 with a cracked bone in his foot but his skill, his puck possession game and yes, his goal-scoring ability will help this team down the stretch.
Add to that that the news that Zbynek Michalek, who also has a cracked bone in his foot, is likely to return by next Tuesday’s game against Detroit, and the Coyotes may finally have a healthy roster to build some momentum, build some continuity and attack the home stretch of this season.
And, as if Doan needed to remind us, the Coyotes also have maybe the best captain in the NHL today. If the Coyotes do turn this season around and end up in the postseason again, don’t focus on the next win, focus on what Doan did Tuesday in a losing effort. Every ounce of energy, every ounce of will was expended in leading the way. It may not have produced a win in L.A., but it reminded the Coyotes how hard winning is, and how much must be sacrificed to achieve it.
“In the second period, he pretty much hit everything that moved and it got us going,” Vrbata said of Doan. “That’s how we have to play from now on, every game, a whole 60 minutes, not just here and there.”