GLENDALE, Ariz. — How much did Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Red Wings impact the Coyotes’ season? Here’s what general manager Don Maloney said before the game when asked if the Coyotes planned to be buyers or sellers at the April 3 trade deadline.
“We’re right at the cliff as far as I’m concerned,” Maloney said. “If we slide much further, all bets are off. We’re going to go out and find assets. This is reality.”
When the Coyotes next take the ice at Jobing.com Arena on April 2, the roster could look very different, because they just slid a little further in the Western Conference race. Phoenix is four points behind eighth-place San Jose and ninth-place Nashville. The Sharks play 11 of their final 17 games at home, where they are 8-1-4. The Predators plays nine of their final 15 games at home, where they are 9-2-4. In contrast, the Coyotes play 10 of their final 16 games on the road, where they are 3-8-3.
Maloney said there has been “constant” dialogue with other teams about trades, but he wasn’t about to “throw in the towel” before this week had played out because the Coyotes have been in this position before — needing a late-season run to secure a playoff spot — and have delivered.
But the task has never been so daunting. The Coyotes’ next three games are at surging Minnesota, at Nashville and at San Jose (after a dreaded cross-country flight) before they return home to face the Kings in their final game before the trade deadline. It’s not a stretch to say the Coyotes need five points — maybe all six — in those next three road games to save the season, and it’s just as important to deny the Predators and Sharks those points.
Playing .500 hockey on the road just won’t cut it when you have only six games left on home ice. You have to make up ground.
“The pack is pulling away, and our recent play isn’t cause for a lot of optimism,” Maloney said. “We need to have a run that starts in net on out — and it has to start now.”
It’s fair to wonder if that’s even possible. Phoenix is winless in its last six games, the longest winless streak since Dave Tippett became coach before the 2009-10 season.
“It’s frustrating. Every day, our staff, we look at everything to try to uncover every rock we can,” Tippett said. “Ultimately, we have to just keep pounding away and hope it turns.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the Coyotes trying to re-establish their old identity, but after 32 games, that sounds like nothing more than talk. With three days off to rest, recuperate and practice the finer points that had been slipping during a grueling stretch, Phoenix looked much like the team that left the ice following a 2-1 loss to Vancouver on Thursday.
There were badly timed penalties, there were bad breaks and there was a familiar inability to finish chances when opportunities arose to put Detroit away with a 2-1 lead after one period.
“It’s disappointing we got the same result,” Tippett said. “There were some things in the game that I thought we did better, but the ability to defend around our net and the ability to create chances in the offensive zone are still issues for us.”
The Coyotes have run out of time to fix them. With a loss at Minnesota or Nashville, you can start speculating about the names that won’t be on the roster next week, whether its Boyd Gordon, Raffi Torres, Derek Morris or others.
They have have reached the point where they’re either going to save their playoff hopes or bolster somebody else’s.