Uncertainty will test Coyotes once again
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes are more experienced than most pro sports team at playing through uncertainty. Their four-year ownership odyssey taught them how to block out the most intrusive of distractions.
They’ll need to draw from that well a lot in the next six weeks — until the NHL’s March 2 trade deadline has passed.
Arizona took the ice on Thursday at Gila River Arena for the first time since backup goalie and popular locker room guy Devan Dubnyk was traded to Minnesota for a 2015 third-round draft pick. A 4-1 loss to Calgary — the Coyotes’ fourth in as many tries against the Flames this season — was almost immaterial given the vibe surrounding this team.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney on Wednesday made it clear the Dubnyk trade was just the start of a roster overhaul that could include the team’s three key unrestricted free agents (Antoine Vermette, Martin Erat and Zbynek Michalek). In fact, he made it clear that only a handful of core players are likely safe.
"It’s part of the game that none of us like, but we’ve kind of put ourselves in this position," goalie Mike Smith said. "Obviously, you don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. We’ve been through that before here but in a different way."
For the second straight game, the Coyotes gave good effort; the bare minimum that Maloney has demanded from a team whose lack of consistent compete level helped put it in early sell mode.
Smith made 21 saves in his first game as the unquestioned starter and right winger Mikkel Boedker scored his fifth goal in his last four games to give the Coyotes a ray of hope. But Arizona couldn’t take advantage of a 10-3 shot advantage in the second period and a glaring defensive breakdown led to Calgary’s game-winning goal 4:51 into the third period.
Center Sean Monahan found himself all alone in front for a whack at T.J. Brodie’s shot from the point, but when he missed, the rebound caromed into the slot and Calgary had options. Both right winger David Jones and left wing Lance Bouma were wide open on the play, with Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone a step slow, wings Lucas Lessio and Martin Erat out of position and center Antoine Vermette trailing the play.
Jones punched one past Smith and the Flames upped their third-period goal differential to a league-best plus-25 while the Coyotes’ final-frame differential fell to minus-30.
"That’s people not doing their job," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of the goal. "Lessio and Erat are both puck watching, Stone is slow to get back and Vermette is late getting back."
Mark Giordano scored a seeing-eye goal with 4:02 left in the third period and Monahan added an empty-netter to drop the Coyotes to 2-4 on their now-concluded six-game homestand.
Lost in the loss was another brilliant individual play by Boedker, who corralled a loose puck in the slot, did a full circle down low and then back into the high slot to evade the check of Flames defenseman Raphael Diaz, then beat Calgary goalie Joni Ortio high to the stick side to extend his goal-scoring streak to a career-high four games.
"It’s not worth talking about one person when you’re losing or you’re winning,’ said Boedker when asked about the goal. "It just happens to fall on my stick right now and go in the back of the net, but we’re a team and it’s a team-first mentality."
That mentality will likely be put to the test as more players are traded in the coming weeks and more youth being infused into the lineup.
"If you see some young players really progress then we’re making strides," Tippett said. "But over this next part of the season, all of those emotions are going to be tested. Believe me."