GLENDALE, Ariz. — The talk after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Wild was of missed opportunities within the game. But a big-picture opportunity is also slipping through the Coyotes’ hands.
With one game left on this six-game homestand, Phoenix is 2-3 and has slipped from playoff position … and oh, look, here come the red-hot, NHL-leading Ducks to close out the carnage on Saturday.
How different is this Coyotes team from the one that skated to the Western Conference finals two seasons ago? Coach Dave Tippett, the guy who always looks first to his defensive shortcomings before addressing anything else, almost seemed to acknowledge that those Coyotes are gone and the new edition must find a different way to win — with offense.
"For me, it was less about mistakes we made than not capitalizing on the opportunities we had," Tippett said of his team, which outshot the Wild 40-28 but didn’t generate enough traffic in front of goalie Niklas Backstrom. "We had some grade-A chances that we didn’t capitalize on and we made some mistakes that they capitalized on. That’s the difference in the hockey game."
Two of those mistakes came courtesy of defenseman Keith Yandle. With Yandle and center Mike Ribeiro defending Wild forward Matt Cooke on a rush, Yandle threw a blind, backhanded clearing pass up the Coyotes’ slot. Minnesota wing Justin Fontaine was trailing the play and picked up the loose puck before beating Smith high.
After Mikkel Boedker tied the game on a power-play goal early in the second, Kyle Brodziak chipped a puck past Yandle at the Wild blue line, raced in alone on Smith and banked a shot off Smith’s glove for a 2-1 lead.
A crazy bounce off the glass and an empty-net goal just added to the Coyotes’ misery. And as long as we’re dredging up dreary thoughts, Smith has won just three of his last 17 starts.
"It’s tough riding from now on," Boedker said. "When you drop one to a team that’s ahead of us in the standings, we’re going to be in the chasing mode now."
Phoenix still has nine of its next 15 at home before the Olympic break, so there is plenty of time to right the ship. But the Coyotes would be wise to build up a cushion since they play 13 of their final 24 games this season on the road.
There is certainly some truth to the Coyotes’ lament that they didn’t score enough on Thursday.
"In a game like that, you have to put as much onus on the guys trying to score as the guys who are trying to stop them," captain Shane Doan said.
But the Wild were playing without two of their top four scorers — Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise are both on injured reserve — and yet it was Minnesota that put a four-spot on the board to slip past Phoenix into eighth place in the Western Conference standings.
"Sometimes, as good as you want to be, the game doesn’t let you be good," Tippett said. "We had some guys who tried real hard tonight, but in the end you’ve got to have results.