Coyotes’ gradual youth movement likely to continue
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Among the most glaring and disturbing of the Coyotes’ deficiencies in a 3-0 loss to Calgary on Saturday was the noticeable difference in speed between the teams.
It was clear by coach Dave Tippett’s comments after the game he wasn’t ready to concede the Flames had an inherent edge in that department. Instead, he traced the problem to work ethic and focus.
"I’d like to think that our pace wasn’t good enough," he said. "In this game, if you played slow you didn’t play very well and we had too many players that played slow."
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they’ve looked slower than many opponents this season, and that trend began on opening night when the Winnipeg Jets skated circles around them.
With 24 games providing a healthy sample size for evaluation, that issue could signal a continuation of the gradual youth movement that is already underway in Glendale with the call-ups of forwards Tobias Rieder, Brendan Shinnimin and defenseman Brandon Gormley.
"When you take a hard look at where you’re at relative to the competition and when you take a look at what’s happening around the league, I think that’s where we need to take this team," GM Don Maloney said. "The team speed and tempo and pace that we play at it is not as high as it needs to be. The way you get more quickness is generally with younger players and you see that all around the league.
"That’s why we made the commitment to Rieder and Gormley (and Shinnimin)," Maloney added. "The last three to four years, we’ve been reaching down to older, veteran players and that’s how we started the season, but we haven’t gotten the results we had hoped to get."
Calling more players up from Portland won’t likely cure all of the Coyotes’ ailments. It would be unwise to expect younger players to come up and score on a regular basis with so little NHL experience under their belts. And even if those younger players possess a little more speed — speed has been an issue in Portland as well this season — they have to learn to play at that speed in the NHL while still executing.
But the current cast of veterans clearly isn’t getting the job done. The Coyotes have scored just 57 goals, which ranks 24th in the NHL, and they’ve gone 112 minutes and 23 seconds without a goal. Their 2.29 goals per game ranks 25th and 16 of their goals have come on the power play, underscoring a season-long trend of deficient 5-on-5 play where the Coyotes’ goals for to goals against ratio is 0.79, the fifth-worst mark in the NHL ahead of Columbus, Edmonton, Buffalo and Carolina.
So who’s next? Maloney said center Tyler Gaudet, a responsible two-way player, is close. Gaudet could give the Coyotes a more physical presence in the offensive zone to help their forechecking issues, but it’s difficult to evaluate him with third-line minutes in Portland.
Jordan Martinook, the team’s 2012 second-round pick, has reportedly played well with top line minutes, showing an ability to create offense and play with pace.
Maloney has said all along that forward Henrik Samuelsson could warrant a call-up around the 40-game mark, but Samuelsson suffered a concussion Nov. 14 against Albany when he took an elbow to the head from Devils defenseman Mark Fraser. He missed three games and Maloney believes he needs more time, but he is another option who could make his way to the NHL in the next month or two.
Samuelsson has played on Portland’s top line with Martinook and Pirates leading scorer, Alex Bolduc (seven goals, 17 assists).
When the season began, Tippett made a push to keep veterans on the roster because it’s his job to win right now, but that plan hasn’t worked out thus far. It’s difficult to say where he stands on the veteran vs. youth issue now.
"That’s not my department," he said. "That’s upstairs. I’m not even going to comment on that."