GLENDALE, Ariz. — The 41-game mark represents the midpoint of the NHL’s regular season. Forty-one games are enough to discern the true character of a team.
That doesn’t bode well for the Phoenix Coyotes as they are currently constituted. It may be time for a significant shake-up.
"I’m sure (general manager) Don (Maloney) and I will talk the next couple of days," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Saturday night after a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Jobing.com Arena. "We’ve got to evaluate where we are and were we want to get to."
The loss was a microcosm of the issues the Coyotes have faced consistently this season.
They had flashes of brilliance and momentum, but they turned the puck over far too often to sustain either. They made poor decisions, failing to make the simple, safe plays that a two-goal lead necessitates, like sending pucks up the boards instead of through the middle of the ice. They didn’t get timely saves from goalie Mike Smith and they didn’t get a lift from their penalty-killing unit when they needed it most.
That combination — and a rudderless power play without injured defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson — foiled any chance the team had to feed off the early energy Shane Doan’s return seemed to provide.
A wide-open Wayne Simmonds scored a power-play goal off a rebound on a Flyers power-play early in the third period, and Philadelphia forward Jakub Voracek took advantage of a glaring Keith Yandle turnover to slip a soft goal between Smith’s pads for the game-winner as Philadelphia rallied from a 3-1 deficit.
"It’s a challenge when you turn pucks over," said Smith, who seemed to be singling out Yandle. "You’re up 3-1, you should be able to snuff teams out and not give them anything — put pucks in, go straight forward with it.
"We continue to throw pucks in the middle of the ice, don’t get it in at their blue line, don’t get it out at our blue line and don’t get saves we need at the right times. That’s a recipe for disaster."
Regardless of who was to blame, it was a game the Coyotes should have had, Doan said.
"You get a two-goal lead, you’ve got to find a way to win that game," said Doan, who logged 18 minutes and 38 seconds of ice time in his first game in a month after battling Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. "We just can’t afford to do that, especially with the way the West is."
When asked after the game if he was concerned that this performance was indicative of who the Coyotes are, Tippett nodded.
"When you make mistakes and your goaltender isn’t cleaning them up, you end up where we’re at," he said. "In the past, we would play smart enough and our goaltending would be sound enough that Philly felt like it played a really good game but didn’t win. We haven’t had that feeling enough here this year."
So what do the Coyotes do from here? Do they ignore Smith’s big contract and turn to backup goalie Thomas Greiss, whose save percentage (.930) looks like Smith’s did two years ago during the club’s run to the Western Conference finals?
Do they swing a deal for a physical defenseman who can clean up some of the mistakes their puck-moving defensemen are making and add a physical blue-line presence that is largely lacking, aside from Derek Morris?
Do they go after that long-sought left wing and send the message that way — by putting current players on notice that the status quo is not acceptable?
Can they even find a deal in a league where so many teams are bumping up against the salary cap and so many teams are unwilling to deal right now because they believe they are still in the hunt for the postseason?
The Coyotes apparently have the means to do so if a deal presents itself.
"We’re not shy about spending some money," co-owner George Gosbee said on New Year’s Eve. "We’re in a very, very good position to seize on some opportunities if they come up."
Something has to give. The Coyotes are 1-2 on this critical six-game homestand, and they’re just 2-5-2 at home after a 9-0-1 start. Dallas and Minnesota have crept back within range, and the Western Conference is clearly not forgiving of prolonged slumps or middling teams.
"We’re kind of average," Doan said. "We can be better than average. We’re not by any means out of it, but at the same time, we haven’t put ourselves in the best position.
"We think we’re better than that. I expect us to be better than that in the second half."