Dave Tippett has a remarkable talent for distilling complex topics into easily understood sound bites. Monday’s postgame offering wasn’t award-winning oratory from Phoenix’s coach, but it could serve as the working title for this soon-to-be-concluded Coyotes campaign.
“Season of frustration,” said Tippett, who has been as visibly annoyed as anyone by his inability to find solutions.
The Coyotes knew they were up against the wall in Detroit. While unbridled optimists can still count this team among the living in the playoff chase, the Coyotes knew that this game was do or die against a club that is also competing for one of two remaining postseason berths.
The Coyotes played well in the first period, even carrying the play as they outshot the Red Wings 12-4. But an old nemesis, their power play – and a new one, their penalty kill — came back to bite them as Detroit scored two power plays goals while Phoenix failed on its two chances in a 4-0 Red Wings rout.
“The first period, I thought we played hard and did a lot of things well, 5-on-5, but specials teams were the difference in the period,” Tippett told FOX Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh. “Our power play couldn’t generate much and they capitalized on two chances. It was downhill from there.”
When the Red Wings got a third power-play goal in the second period on a short-side wrist shot from Valtteri Filppula, the Coyotes were all but done. Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard turned aside all 34 shots he faced as Phoenix was shut out for the seventh time in 23 road games this season.
“Their goalie played better than our goalie,” Coyotes netminder Mike Smith told Walsh. “For the biggest game of our year thus far, it was a mediocre performance on my part.”
In Smith’s defense, Detroit’s first two goals — from Johan Franzen and Damien Brunner — were brilliant plays by a team with no shortage of skill. But the Mike Smith of 2011-12 made a habit of stopping those chances, and the Mike Smith of 2011-12 rarely surrendered confidence-sucking goals like Filppula’s.
The fallout from Monday’s loss was easy to understand. Phoenix has three games left yet trails Minnesota and Columbus by five points and Detroit by four for one of the final two playoff spots. The Wild need just one point to eliminate any chance the Coyotes have of catching them, while the Blue Jackets and Wings need just two (Detroit would win a tiebreaker with Phoenix based on regulation/overtime wins).
“It’s disappointing,” Smith said. “After getting to the conference finals last year and having so much success, sitting where we are this year, it’s obviously a tough pill to swallow.”
There will be plenty of time to dissect what the Coyotes should do and will do to get things right in the offseason. And there will be plenty of thought devoted to what went wrong this season after Phoenix reached the Western Conference final a year ago.
The lockout, Smith’s play, injuries, free-agent failures, the continuing ownership saga and a seven-game losing streak were all factors in this unexpectedly poor encore.
“That losing streak … that’s the season,” forward Radim Vrbata told Walsh. “That’s where we got behind, and we were chasing since then. It’s tough to chase in this league.”
All the Coyotes have left now is effort and pride. At least those two commodities are still in ample supply.
“We have to play hard,” Vrbata said, “even if we are too far behind now.”