Secondary scoring is vital to a hockey team’s success. The Coyotes got it in spades Sunday in Calgary.
Raffi Torres had two goals, defenseman Michael Stone scored — on the power play, no less — and Nick Johnson added a goal.
“That should have been enough,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.
But it was not for the defensively challenged Coyotes. Yes, you read that right. Phoenix blew a two-goal lead in Edmonton on Saturday, then a late lead in Calgary on Sunday, but those aren’t the only examples of this season’s defensive struggles.
Heading into Tuesday’s game against the potent Canucks at Rogers Arena, the Coyotes are allowing a middling 2.61 goals per game, only the 15th-best mark in the NHL.
“That’s got to stop,” coach Dave Tippett told FOX Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh. “That’s not who we are as a team.”
It wasn’t last season when the Coyotes allowed 2.37 goals per game, the fifth-best mark in the league. When your margin for error is as slim as the Coyotes’ generally is, that quarter of a goal per game makes a big difference.
So is it time to be concerned? Probably not.
“To be honest, we’re about where I thought we’d be at this point in this season,” Maloney said. “There are some concerns, but there are some emerging storylines that I like.”
Two key defensive-zone breakdowns spelled doom against the Flames in a disappointing 5-4 loss, and those clearly have to be fixed, but it’s hard to gauge just how good this team will be when it’s healthy. With key forwards Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata still out of the lineup and Matthew Lombardi already having missed a month, the chemistry up front hasn’t had time to percolate.
Defensemen David Schlemko and Derek Morris are also out of the lineup, and Rusty Klesla missed several games, forcing young blueliners Stone, Chris Summers and David Rundblad to log more minutes than they perhaps they are ready for at this point in their careers. That’s a recipe for some mental breakdowns like Stone had on the game winner against Calgary, when he gave Curtis Glencross too much space in the high slot.
Toss in the time it took goalie Mike Smith to round into form and you’ve got a slightly above-average record that is just outside the playoff pecking order. It won’t get any easier against a Canucks club that Maloney noted is going to be hopping mad after an 8-3 drubbing in Detroit on Sunday. But with six of the following seven games at home, there is plenty of time to iron out the kinks.
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
What to do with Lu? Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo has been the subject of as much trade talk as any NHL player over the past eight months. Between Cory Schneider’s capable play and Luongo’s massive contract (nine more years at an average of $5.33 million), you can understand why Vancouver would want to move him. But before a horrid performance Sunday in Detroit, Luongo had actually outplayed Schneider. Entering the game against the Red Wings, he was leading the NHL with a 1.45 goals-against average. His numbers are still better than Schneider’s (2.11 goals-against average to Schneider’s 2.68; .916 save percentage to .912). Even so, it appears GM Mike Gillis is working the trade routes. The only hindrance right now might be the salary that trade partners want the Canucks to take on in return for their gold-medal-winning, high-priced backup.
4: Vancouver has won four straight Northwest Division titles and five of the division’s last six. The past two seasons, the Canucks also won the President’s Trophy as the team with the most points in the NHL.
Eye-popping production: Since his breakout season in 2006-07, Canucks forward Daniel Sedin has averaged better than a point a game. In the 480 regular-season games he’s played over that span, he has 515 points.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
A healthy Kesler is key: Canucks forward Ryan Kesler made his season debut Feb. 15. Kesler is coming off shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in May and a separate procedure on his wrist in June. Although he is still rounding into shape, Kesler’s presence solidifies the Canucks’ forward depth. When the Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup finals two years ago, he was the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP had Vancouver beaten Boston.
Time is ticking: How do you view the Canucks? On the one hand, they’ve been Canada’s best and most consistent team over the past several seasons. On the other hand, they’ve never won a Cup like their brethren in Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto. The Sedin twins are 32, Kevin Bieksa is 31 and Ryan Kesler is 28, meaning the key Canucks are in their primes. How much longer will Vancouver wait for this team to deliver? How many more close calls will a rabid and knowledgeable fan base endure before it concludes that promise never achieved its potential?
Picks to click: Winger Steve Sullivan has 30 points (15 goals) in 38 career games against the Canucks, and center Antoine Vermette has 13 points in 18 career games.
For the Coyotes, D David Schlemko (shoulder) is out indefinitely. D Derek Morris (upper body), F Radim Vrbata (lower body) and F Martin Hanzal (upper body) are day-to-day. For the Canucks, D Kevin Bieksa (groin) and F David Booth (illness) are day-to-day.