Coyotes struggle again in front of Smith in loss to Avs

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It wouldn’t be fair to characterize the Arizona Coyotes’ poor play in front of goalie Mike Smith as the elephant in the room. Everyone has acknowledged the elephant. The problem is that nobody has figured out how to remove that four-ton weight.

Smith looked like he might sail to his fifth win of the season when the Coyotes built a three-goal, first-period lead against the struggling Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday at Gila River Arena — Arizona’s highest first-period output of the season.

But nothing has been easy when Smith is between the pipes this season. Colorado scored a pair of goals off brutal defensive-zone coverage and netted two more off Coyotes’ sticks to rally for a 4-3 overtime victory.

Former Coyote Danny Briere got credit for the game-winner when his pass across the slot was redirected by Coyotes center Martin Hanzal as he tried to reach behind his body with his stick and block it.

The loss was the fourth straight for the Coyotes at home and all have felt like stomach punches. The Coyotes lost to the Islanders with 2:31 left in regulation; they lost to the Stars with 1:16 left in regulation; they lost to the Capitals with 1:44 left in overtime; Briere’s goal also came with 1:44 left in overtime.

"The games are winnable and we should be winning," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.

They’re not. Arizona fell to 4-11-2 (10 points) in Smith’s 17 starts. By contrast, they are 5-0-1 (11 points) in Devan Dubnyk’s six starts.

When asked what he made of Smith’s play on Tuesday, Tippett didn’t exactly deliver a ringing endorsement.

Avs 4, Coyotes 3 (OT)

"I thought he made a couple good saves and then there were some times where he looked erratic," he said.

But in breaking down the goals, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the two own-goals, or the Avs’ first goal, on Smith.

"We got some breaks to get a lead and they got some breaks to get back in the game," Tippett said. "The first two were poor coverage on our part, real poor coverage."

Both of those goals belonged to Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog, who found himself all alone in front to collect the rebound of his own shot and slip it past Smith’s pad and inside the far post to cut the lead to 3-1 early in the second period. 

On the second, Landeskog walked out in front of the net and away from Sam Gagner’s check. Neither defenseman — Zbynek Michalek or Oliver Ekman-Larsson (both minus-2) picked him up and he had his second rebound goal off Nathan MacKinnon’s shot from the side of the net. On the play, Smith got his stick caught in the net and got beat through the five-hole.

"We ended up playing too much in our zone," said defenseman Michael Stone, who had a goal and an assist. "We gave up too many chances around our net, and those pucks went in."

It may be too early to glance at the standings, but the loss dropped Arizona behind Colorado and into 13th in the Western Conference, ahead of only Edmonton. Given the surprising play of Calgary, Nashville and Winnipeg, the climb in the NHL’s better conference looks even tougher.

"We were in a good spot early on," center Antoine Vermette said. "It should have been two points tonight."

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