Inconsistency still the Coyotes' calling card

Phoenix continues pattern of one step forward, one step backward and blows chance to move into playoff spot.

Phoenix continues pattern of one step forward, one step backward and blows chance to move into playoff spot.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What would you do over the Olympic break if you were Coyotes general manager Don Maloney? Would you make a few deals to push this team into playoff position, or would you light a match?

Right now, it's a toss-up. The Coyotes can tantalize with potential one night, then crush you with inconsistency the next.

There was nothing left for coach Dave Tippett or captain Shane Doan to say when the final seconds ticked off Dallas' 3-1 victory Tuesday at Jobing.com Arena. There was nothing new for reporters to ask.

Consistency is the elusive commodity for the Coyotes, and if they haven't found it in the first 56 games, what are the chances will in the final 26?

"We've just got to be better," Doan said. "They played in our zone, they outshot us, and they beat us tonight."

The carrot was dangling before the Coyotes when they took the ice for warm-ups. Boston was on its way to beating Vancouver. With a win, the Coyotes would jump into a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 9.

That should have been enough motivation to fuel the Coyotes. It wasn't, and that has been a maddening pattern for this club this season.

This homestand is a perfect example. The Coyotes have wins over Los Angeles and Pittsburgh (two teams in playoff position), and losses to Buffalo and Dallas (two teams out of playoff position).

Up. Down. Up. Down.

"It something we stressed before the game but obviously we had a better game against Pittsburgh (Saturday)," said center Antoine Vermette, who had the Coyotes' lone goal.

Credit Dallas with a simple game plan. The Stars played a tight-checking game, they got their sticks in a lot of passing and shooting lanes and they capitalized on a disparity in early power-plays chances to gain momentum.

Two Phoenix mistakes -- a failed clear and a bad turnover in the neutral zone on a line change -- led to the Stars' first two goals. But there was plenty of time for the Coyotes to mount a push. It just never materialized and that was a shame because they wasted a terrific game from goalie Mike Smith, who made 37 saves to keep his team close.

"Smitty played very well, but I didn't think we had enough players play well to win this game," Tippett said.

Two games remain before the break, beginning with Friday's expected sellout against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Regardless of what happens in that game and Saturday's return engagement in Dallas, Phoenix will still be in the playoff hunt when it returns from the break. The bottom of the West has made certain of that -- even if the pack has grown in numbers.

So regardless of what happens in those two games, Maloney won't be able to form definitive judgments about his roster. That should make for an interesting 2½ weeks of soul searching and closed-door meetings.

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter