Coyotes ‘not even close’ in sixth straight loss

What’s the worst way to finish off the pre-All-Star game portion of a schedule? How about playing the ticked-off, skill-laden Chicago Blackhawks with your best stay-at-home defenseman in street clothes and your leading scorer in a hospital bed, minus his spleen?

Chicago was just 3-5 in the new year entering Tuesday’s game against the Coyotes at United Center. Its normally water-tight defense was struggling, its coach was angry and Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was concerned about how his young defensemen would handle this enormous test.

His concern was warranted. Chicago peppered goalie Mike Smith with 51 shots in a 6-1 win, and the Coyotes limped into the break riding a season-high six-game losing streak (0-5-1). 

The 51 shots were a season-high by a Coyotes opponent and the six goals represented the eighth time this season Smith has allowed five goals or more. Arizona didn’t deliver anything resembling the all-in effort Tippett wanted to see before his team could earn a rest.

"Not even close. Who are we kidding?" Tippett told FOX Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh. "Not even close."

On the same day that NHL Central Scouting released its list of top draft prospects with centers Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel at the top, the Coyotes entered the All-Star break with a 16-25-5 record. Arizona is just four points ahead of Western Conference cellar-dweller Edmonton and six points ahead of NHL cellar-dweller Buffalo in the race for the worst record and the best odds at the top pick.

Tuesday’s game was a beat-down from the opening faceoff. Jonathan Toews scored just 6:53 into the game, Andrew Shaw had a pair of goals, Patrick Kane had three points and Chicago’s waves of skill made that 2012 Western Conference quarterfinal series between these clubs feel like a generation ago.

The Blackhawks forced their way to the net, they forced Coyotes penalties (five power plays), they forced their will and they forced turnovers by the Arizona defense.

Blackhawks 6, Coyotes 1

"Just look at the defensive corps," Tippett said, sounding all the world like a coach at wit’s end with the roster he’s been dealt. "You’ve got a bunch of kids that are leaning how to play. It’s a hard lesson (playing Chicago) when you’re a defenseman trying to learn in the league."

"We’ve got to find some kind of plan to move our group ahead because this is unacceptable." 

New majority owner Andrew Barroway is working on that very plan with the other members of IceArizona and the management team, but the state of the Coyotes nation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The team could trade its three key remaining unrestricted free agents — Antoine Vermette, Zbynek Michalek and Martin Erat — and it could move others if the price is right. There are less than six weeks before the March 2 trade deadline. 

About the only thing the team will be able to control for the remaining 36 games of this season is the level at which it competes. That level wasn’t evident on Tuesday. 

"Hopefully this break will be good for the team and we can come back with a fresh mindset," Smith said. "It was almost like we were on break before break started."

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