Coyotes running out of time to fix problems

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Coyotes are running out of mulligans, they’re running out of time and they’re completely spent on new evaluations of season-long issues. 

"To win hockey games in this league, you have to pay the price to win," said coach Dave Tippett after Phoenix blew a two-goal third-period lead in a 3-2 loss to the Capitals on Saturday at Verizon Center. "In the critical times of the game, we don’t pay the price to win."

Of particular note Saturday were a cardinal sin from defenseman Keith Yandle, a communications breakdown and a tripping call on David Moss, with those mistakes all but giving the Capitas their three goals.

The Coyotes had built a 2-0 lead after two periods on the strength of goals from Brandon McMillan (who had another one disallowed on a poor call) and Radim Vrbata. More importantly, they had squeezed the life out of the Caps, who opened the game with a flurry but steadily fizzled under the Coyotes’ pressure.

Midway through the final period, Washington defenseman Karl Alzner wristed a seemingly harmless shot toward goalie Mike Smith. But Yandle provided a perfect screen, Smith never moved and the puck found the upper corner of the net to slice the lead to 2-1 and re-energize the Caps.

"The first goal they scored should never go in," a miffed Tippett said. "Our defenseman’s in front of it. The worst thing you can do is step out of the way. That’s just leaving your goaltender hanging out to dry."

Just 32 seconds after that goal, Washington’s Brooks Laich was left wide open in front of the net for a one-timer for the game-tying goal due to what Tippett called a miscommunication between winger Martin Erat and the defensemen.

Then came Moss’s tripping penalty, which gave the NHL’s second-ranked power-play unit a chance to ice the game. Troy Brouwer did just that off a rebound, and the Coyotes had that deer-in-headlights look again, just six days after blowing a two-goal third-period lead in a loss to St. Louis.

Capitals 3, Coyotes 2

"It seemed like they were getting frustrated because Smitty was making great saves there, and then one shot just found a way in, and the next shift they score another one, and we take a (penalty) and they score again," Vrbata said. "It’s frustrating."

It was borderline criminal given the way Smith played. He turned aside 30 Capitals shots, many of them grade-A chances, including three from sniper Alex Ovechkin. Smith was the only reason the Coyotes didn’t find themselves in an early hole.

"It’s too bad we can’t clean up games like that for him," Tippett said.

The loss prevented the Coyotes from winning three straight for the first time since Oct. 31-Nov. 5, part of a five-game winning streak. It also dropped them three points behind the Stars for eight place in the Western Conference standings. Dallas beat Minnesota on Saturday and is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games.

Somehow, some way, the Coyotes must learn to win on the road, where they are just 10-13-8, the sixth-worst mark in the NHL. And somehow, some way, they must eliminate boneheaded or lackadaisical mistakes if this first season of real ownership is to amount to anything more than a disappointment.

"If the message doesn’t start getting through, we’ll have an early spring," Tippett said. "That’s just the way it goes."

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