GLENDALE, Ariz. — This one had danger written all over it, and Coyotes coach Dave Tippett knew it.
It was the first game back from a long road trip. Ottawa was desperate to finish its six-game trip on a winning note, and Phoenix’s energy was lacking.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they didn’t heed their coach’s warning in a 4-3 overtime loss Tuesday at Jobing.com Arena.
“Everything that Tip told us before the game happened,” forward Radim Vrbata said. “They were hungry. They went after us. We didn’t respond to it.
“We were lucky to get a point out of it.”
These are the kind of games a team hopes won’t come back to bite it late in the season when the playoff push is on, but these are also the kinds of hiccups that accompany the early season when teams are still hunting for their identities.
Among the areas where the Coyotes could use improvement:
— The power play, which had terrible entries most of the night and too many lost puck battles, allowing the Senators easy clearing plays and the Coyotes few chances.
— More wire-to-wire acts from goalie Mike Smith. Tippett made repeated mention of Smith’s drop in save percentage to .910 last year from .930 the year before. Through six games, Smith’s percentage is .905. That’s partly a reflection of the players in front of him and partly a reflection of the team’s road-heavy schedule thus far. But the bottom line is it needs to improve.
— A better effort from the wings and a couple of defensemen. The Coyotes got good push from Rob Klinkhammer and Lauri Korpikoski, and they got strong efforts up the middle from Ribeiro, Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette and newcomer Jeff Halpern, who won eight of nine faceoffs. But Tippett noted after the game that the contributions were too few, up and down the roster.
“There’s going to be nights where you don’t get the results you want, but you’ve got to consistently get better,” Tippett said. “What you try to do in a game like that is you try to make sure your group, everybody is contributing a little bit — maybe not to their normal standard, but everybody’s got to contribute a little bit.
“The problem was, tonight we had probably half a dozen guys that I don’t think contributed very much at all. Thats where you come up a little short.”
Despite their listless, four-shot first period, the Coyotes still looked like they might get two points thanks to Smith’s 12 first-period saves.
Klinkhammer and Vrbata scored just 1:17 apart early in the second to stake Phoenix to a 2-0 lead that was 2-1 after two periods.
Holding leads has been a staple of the Tippett era, and the Coyotes had been 4-0 this season when scoring first as well as 4-0 when holding a lead after two periods.
But Smith misplayed a puck that he had to leave because he was out of the trapezoid, allowing Colin Greening to center a pass to Jason Spezza for the tying goal early in the third period — the second of Spezza’s three goals.
Had it not been for Ribeiro’s power-play goal with 3:30 remaining — on a deflection of an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot that just barely grazed him — the Coyotes would have fallen in regulation.
That may have softened the blow — and two days of rest for a road-weary team will also help — but it wasn’t exactly solace for Tippett afterward
“I hate making excuses for not winning,” he said. “You should win all the time, whether you’re tired, injured, whatever it is. You should have the ability to win.”