The highs and lows of the Coyotes’ season
And that’s all we’ll have to say about that.
Instead of recapping a meaningless game or this disappointing season, we decided to leave you with seven lowlights (one for each game of that crushing streak) and seven highlights from the last season of Phoenix Coyotes hockey, as the team is set to change its name to the Arizona Coyotes in June.
We’ll start with the lowlights because we want to leave you feeling, well, high.
— Rusty Klesla’s concussion: One of the key plays in the Coyotes’ season came in the preseason when Kings bad boy Jordan Nolan ran defenseman Rusty Klesla in the neutral zone and knocked him out. Klesla was taken from the ice on a stretcher. Nolan wasn’t penalized for the play and wasn’t suspended because then-NHL policeman Brendan Shanahan somehow determined that Nolan didn’t target the head. The worst part about that play wasn’t Shanahan’s blurred vision, however. The worst part was that it changed Klesla’s game, robbing the Coyotes of a player who had been a gritty, valuable defenseman and probably ruining Klesla’s NHL career.
— Shane Doan contracts Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: The team was on a three-game trip through western Canada in December when Doan started feeling symptoms. While the team was in Vancouver for the final game of that trip, the Canucks team doctor started him on a regimen of Doxocyclin because he suspected the disease, which can be very difficult to diagnose. That foresight probably saved Doan’s season, but he still missed a month and took another month to get his legs under him. "From the beginning of December until March, I really was useless," the captain said. "It’s disappointing. You’re frustrated and you wish you could have helped out." Doan was on pace to shatter his career high for goals (31) when he left the lineup, and he still finished with 23. The Coyotes obviously could have used the additional offense.
— Butt goal and Buffalo sweep: Two days before Christmas, the Sabres got an early present when the Coyotes blew a late 1-0 lead and then lost 2-1 in overtime when Mark Pysyk’s shot deflected into the air and landed in the back of goalie Mike Smith’s pants. There it stayed as Smith backed into the net while trying to get back in position and locate the puck. The only thing more bizarre than that goal this season was the fact that the Sabres, who finished with an NHL-low 52 points, swept the two-game season series from the Coyotes.
— The St. Louis collapse: You’ll find this hard to believe, but the Coyotes blew a two-goal lead after two periods on March 2 as the Blues rallied for four third-period goals. The lead was one of 24 the Coyotes surrendered in losses this season, with 13 of those coming after leading in the third period. This one felt like more like a gut-punch than most, however.
— The playoff-killing seven-game losing streak: About two weeks ago, Phoenix had a five-point lead on Dallas for the final wild card spot and had a chance to move up to seventh with Minnesota in town. The Coyotes blew another lead against the Wild, the high-priced forwards went silent, Phoenix scored nine goals in its next seven games and the team was eliminated from postseason contention when Dallas won Friday against St. Louis.
— The WhiteOut that wasn’t: It was hard to look at the seats at Jobing.com Arena, adorned in white for Fan Appreciation Night on Sunday, and not think about what might have been. While the Stars grabbed a flight to Anaheim for the first round of the playoffs, the Coyotes took off their equipment for the last time this season. There is little that can match the excitement of playoff hockey. And for the second straight season, the Valley won’t taste it.
— Vrbata’s opening-night hat trick: What better way to usher in the new ownership group than a 4-1 win over the Rangers, highlighted by a Radim Vrbata hat trick, in front of a sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena? "When the ownership group went on the ice, the crowd was electric, and we just fed off of it," Vrbata said. "That’s what everybody was waiting for last year — the last four years. Fans liked it, and we liked it on the bench."
— Smith’s goal: Smith accomplished one of the rarest feats in pro sports when he scored into an empty net with 0.1 seconds left in a 5-2 win over the Red Wings on Oct. 19, becoming just the 11th goaltender in NHL history to score. Smith gloved a shot from just inside the blue line by Detroit’s Mikael Samuelsson, quickly dropped it and then launched it down the ice. With Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard on the bench for an extra attacker, it slid across the goal line just before the final horn. "Everything has to work right and the clock has to slow down at the right time in the game to let it trickle over the line," Smith said. "It was just a bonus to a great win." It was Smith’s first career goal and just the seventh to be shot into the net by a goaltender in NHL history.
— Smith stops the Sharks: Two days after that Halloween rally, Smith carried the Coyotes to their fourth straight win by stopping 50 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory in San Jose. The Sharks peppered Smith with 19 third-period shots and a whopping 21 on their six power plays, but they never scored after the 5:10 mark of the second period. "We weren’t really thrilled with the way we played, but I think we grounded it out Coyote ugly and found a way to get the two points," Smith said.
— OEL, coast to coast: We won’t focus on the fact that the Coyotes blew a chance to beat the NHL’s best team when they blew another lead in a loss to the Bruins. In fact, we won’t say anything about this goal, either. Just watch the video of Olver Ekman-Larsson’s spectacular end-to-end goal against Boston. It speaks for itself.