GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dave Tippett has been preaching the importance of better puck management, staying out of the penalty box and improving the penalty-killing unit.
With a 14-4-4 start to buoy their confidence, the Coyotes haven’t been paying much heed to their coach. Maybe that will change after those same issues plagued Phoenix in its first regulation loss at home this season, a 4-2 setback to Pacific Division-leading Anaheim on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.
“First goal was a power play, second goal was a turnover, third goal was a turnover, fourth goal was a power play,” Tippett said. “Maybe I shouldn’t talk about that so much. Maybe we’d get it.”
If the Coyotes want to sustain this torrid start, they’ll need to. The two power-play goals the Ducks scored highlighted a major weakness in the Phoenix game this season, despite the addition of assistant Newell Brown, who has done wonders for the power play.
The Coyotes have allowed 13 power-play goals in their last 11 games, with the penalty-killing unit dropping to 28th in the 30-team NHL at 76.1 percent.
“We’re trying some different people on it. There’s concern there,” Tippett said. “Tonight, we just didn’t cover open men, didn’t win enough battles. Your PK has got to win puck battles.”
The penalty kill has had its troubles in the past, finishing under 80 percent twice in Tippett’s previous four seasons. But it was an elite unit the season the team advanced to the Western Conference finals, and this year’s performance represents the low-water mark in terms of percentage.
Saturday may have been the low point of the season. Anaheim entered the game with the league’s worst road power play (6.4 percent), but the Ducks scored on two of their first three chances.
“We’ve had our struggles at home on the power play and on the road,” said Anaheim left wing Dustin Penner, who had two goals. “This is just a step in the right direction for our special teams.”
The Coyotes certainly miss departed free agent Boyd Gordon’s shot-blocking and faceoff-winning abilities. He played a major role on this unit last season.
On Saturday, the unit also missed forward Lauri Korpikoski (upper-body injury), defenseman Zbynek Michalek (IR) and center Martin Hanzal, who left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury.
But the latter three players have played plenty this season, and yet the problems persist.
“First things first, we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” defenseman Michael Stone said. “We’ve been talking about battling hard on it. We had a couple good starts to our kills and then they scored late.
“I don’t know if you can put a particular point on it. We just need to battle harder on it. When we get chances to clear pucks, they’ve got to go down the ice, and when we get chances to pressure, we’ve got to pressure.”
The Coyotes are off Sunday, so they won’t have significant time to work on the PK before they hit the road for games at Nashville on Monday and Minnesota on Wednesday. But it will likely be a point of emphasis when they do have time.
Any weakness will be exploited in the power-laden Western Conference, where this mild two-game losing streak has dropped Phoenix all the way down to eighth place in the conference.