Coyotes fail major test in loss to Blues

GLENDALE, Ariz. — St. Louis has been a terrible matchup for the Coyotes for the past three seasons. The Blues had won eight of the last 10 games against Arizona entering Saturday’s game at Gila River Arena.

But this 6-1 loss was far more disturbing than any of those prior losses, or Arizona’s season-opening 6-2 loss to Winnipeg. This felt like Coyotes’ fans worst fears confirmed.

How many more days until the NHL Draft Lottery?

"That was a good test for our team to see where we’re at and obviously we didn’t fare very well," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "Mistakes, unmarked players, all of the above. We didn’t move quick enough, move the puck quick enough, check quick enough.

"We’re looking to play better."

It was hard to decide which was more alarming: how good the Blues looked, or how bad the Coyotes looked. Let’s stick to the latter.

Of St. Louis’ six goals, four came against an Arizona penalty-killing unit that had killed off its first 10 chances this season.

Most of the Blues’ goals came on point-blank chances from unmarked players, giving goalie Mike Smith little to no chance to save the day in a game in which he looked sharp early.

Blues 6, Coyotes 1

Even so, Smith allowed a soft goal in the third period and has surrendered 16 goals in just three games.

"It’s a concern," Tippett said of both the gaudy total and his franchise goalie’s psyche.

Mental errors were the order of the day for the Coyotes. On St. Louis’ second goal, Alex Steen was wide open as he drove to the net and received David Backes’ pass from behind the net.

On the third St. Louis goal, Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone had two chances to clear the puck and failed on both attempts before getting caught out of position as Jaden Schwartz received Vladimir Tarasenko’s pass at the far post. 

St. Louis failed to score on a 3-on-0 after perhaps the worst line change you’ll ever see on film, but the Blues did cash in off an offensive zone faceoff early in the third period when Jori Lehtera beat Joe Vitale cleanly on a draw. On the play, wing Brandon McMillan released to get to the point and defenseman Keith Yandle was about three feet off Schwartz, who ripped one past Smith from the hash mark.

"There are going to be mistakes in the game but I think we just don’t do a real good job backing people up," wing Lauri Korpikoski said in the most honest and detailed postgame comments of the night. "If there’s a mistake, we need to be there for the guy making the mistake and help him out. 

"We’ve got to be better. That’s not just little mistakes; that’s the whole mindset and how we play the game."

It’s important to remember that the Coyotes are 2-2. They’re not the Edmonton Oilers or the Buffalo Sabres. But if Tippett does manage to keep this team around the playoff cutoff line late in the season, two things should happen once and for all.

First, there should be no doubt about this coach’s ability to wring the most out of a questionable lineup. Second, ownership needs to make good on its promise of delivering better goods at the trade deadline or, preferably earlier.

It’s inspiring marketing to talk about a pack mentality. It’s great for team camaraderie to say you’re relying on scoring by committee. 

But how often can you go to those wells before everyone finally realizes they’re empty slogans? 

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter