GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are hot streaks over the course of an NHL season, and there are times when a team just looks to survive.
With captain Shane Doan and key defenseman Zbynek Michalek still out of the lineup for an indefinite period of time, it sure feels like the latter for the Coyotes.
Phoenix played well enough for much of Friday’s post-holiday game with San Jose at Jobing.com Arena. But once the game went to a crapshoot, — er, shootout — San Jose’s superior firepower took over and the Sharks took two points with a 4-3 victory while the Coyotes continued to cling to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff standings with another one-point game.
"You’ll take a lot of good things that we did out of this game," coach Dave Tippett said. "I told the players, ‘If we can play at this level the majority of the time, we’ll get our fair share of points.’"
The question is: Will the Coyotes be able to stack enough points while Doan and Michalek are out to stick around in the Western Conference playoff race? Minnesota and Colorado are helping their cause by slumping while Dallas has crept back into the race with a 6-3-1 stretch. But the elite teams of the West are starting to open a gap between themselves and the middle of the conference, which could mean fewer playoff spots up for grabs.
The Coyotes are 14 points behind conference leader Chicago and 13 points behind Pacific Division leading Anaheim, their road opponent in a quick turnaround Saturday at 5 p.m. With the one point earned, Phoenix sits alone in eighth place, two points ahead of the Stars, one point ahead of the Wild and three points behind the Avalanche.
It feels like the West is splitting into three distinct classes: the elite, the hopefuls and the dregs. The Coyotes at least want to make sure they stay in the middle class.
"Any time you’re playing in close games, you’d like two (points), but with the way things are now, when they go to a shootout, itâs one of those things where sometimes you’re hot and winning them, other times you struggle," said forward David Moss, who had a pair of goals just one day before his 32nd birthday. "We battled hard. We found a way to claw back in the game when they got the lead."
San Jose took a 3-2 lead midway through the third period when Brent Burns slipped free of Antoine Vermette’s check in the slot and buried a feed from Joe Pavelski behind the net.
But Phoenix scored on its second power play of the game when Mike Ribeiro drew two players to him along the boards and then slipped a pass across the ice to Radim Vrbata, who waited for Martin Hanzal to set up a partial screen and then ripped a wrist shot past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi to ensure the Coyotes got at least a point.
"I really think we moved it around well on the power play, so that’s a good thing, a positive thing to build on," Vrbata said.
Until Doan returns, the Coyotes may have to settle for those smaller victories.
"You don’t just miss him on the ice. You miss him in the dressing room, like when we had that long road trip," Vrbata said. "Everybody goes through it, but that’s a big hole and a key part of our team that we hope will be back soon."