GLENDALE, Ariz. — Slow starts, blown leads, high-scoring games. This is exactly the brand of hockey you expected from the Phoenix Coyotes, right?
“Entertainment, entertainment,” said coach Dave Tippett, who decided to play along with the narrative for a few quotes following Saturday’s 5-4 matinee win over the Edmonton Oilers. “We’re going to rewrite history here.”
The good news? The Coyotes rallied from another sluggish start, another blown lead and a middling performance from goalie Mike Smith to post a victory on home ice, bringing their record at Jobing.com Arena to 4-0-1 for nine of a 10 possible points.
The bad news?
“Our game’s not in very good shape,” Tippett said. “I love scoring some goals, but you can’t give up four to five a night. That’s a recipe for disaster.
In Phoenix’s past two games, there have been a total of 20 goals scored. For the season, the Coyotes have 40 goals. That was the second-highest total in the NHL before Sunday’s evening NHL games began. But they had allowed 39. That was also the second-highest total in the league.
“Don’t get me wrong. I like winning,” Tippett said. “Any time you win, you should have a smile on your face. But what I look at is how we’re going to win long term. There’s just some things in our game that are going to have to improve if we’re going to win long term.”
Let’s talk about those.
— After 11 games played, Smith’s save percentage is .903. It’s too early to label that a troubling trend, but it’s not too early to say it warrants watching. That number needs to climb significantly for Phoenix to be a player in the West. When the Coyotes advanced to the Western Conference finals, it was .930.
— Puck management and defensive-zone coverage have been shoddy. There have been plenty of culprits here over the course of the season. On Sunday, goals by defensemen David Schlemko and Michael Stone masked the fact that both made a litany of mistakes on the defensive end, something Tippett noted after the game.
— Playing smarter with leads. In the past six games, the Coyotes have either blown a two-goal lead or a third-period lead four times, somehow managing to get six points out of those four games.
“You can’t take chances when you have the lead,” captain Shane Doan said. “You have to do it when you’re trailing, and I think we have more capability of coming back than we have in the past, which is encouraging, but we need to make sure we’re playing the right way with the lead.”
If this sounds like a glass-is-half-empty portrayal of a win, just know that is how the Coyotes coach was portraying it — and rightfully so. In five games on home ice, there has been little to complain about from an entertainment standpoint, and that’s great for a new ownership group as it tries to ignite a fan base.
There are also plenty of positive signs in the lineup, from Martin Hanzal’s hot start and net presence, to Mike Ribeiro’s creativity, to 10 goals from the defense, to an emerging power play.
The Coyotes want to score more goals. Every team does. Tippett doesn’t want to play endless 2-1 games. But the Coyotes can’t keep up this style or they’re going to start resembling the team that took the ice opposite them on Saturday.
“If we play loosy-goosy all the time, we’ll just be a fun team to watch. That’s about it,” Tippett said.
A team with a whole lot of wows but not a lot of wins.