Coyotes looking inward for answers to skid

March 22, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. – If you were expecting a Coyotes post mortem following Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Canucks at Arena, we'll give you the bullet points.

Phoenix called a players-only meeting after the game to address some longstanding issues.

"The thing that guys love playing here for is that we count on you. It's not like you're on this team and you're not a big part of it. Every single guy's a huge part of this team," captain Shane Doan said. "It's a great feeling when you're winning. But we're all responsible when we lose. You can't hide from it, you can't duck into a corner -- every single guy has to be better."

Mike Smith might be seriously injured after Alexander Edler ran him behind the Coyotes net, and it might not matter because it's become crystal clear throughout the course of this season that the Coyotes do not have faith in backup Jason LaBarbera.

Look around the West at the teams that are having success. Chicago, Anaheim, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Vancouver are all using two goalies. With the lockout-condensed schedule, those teams have all recognized how vital that is to success, yet the Coyotes continue to burn both ends of the Smith's candle because they don't believe they have a viable second option.

There was no word on Smith's condition after the game – only that he was being evaluated. If that evaluation comes back negative, the Coyotes are in one heck of a pickle since they could find themselves as low as 13th in the conference when they take the ice Monday against the Red Wings – in one of their final seven home games.

But let's assume that Smith is OK. That's where these three days off come in so handy. We're of the belief that few teams have suffered more from the lack of practice time afforded by the condensed schedule than the Coyotes. Coach Dave Tippett's system is a finely tuned machine, and there were multiple points last season when a couple days of tweaking did wonders for the structure and fine points of the Phoenix game.

"We need practice," coach Dave Tippett said. "We've got three days and we're going to have two hard practices. We'll see if we can get things going in the right direction."

If Smith is OK, goalie coach Sean Burke should benefit from some time with his pupil as well. It's no secret that the Coyotes will go as far as Smith will carry them. And when you look deeper into the numbers, you'll find the Coyotes are allowing fewer shots and fewer scoring chances than last year, but their team save percentage is down dramatically. Smith has to steal more goals and games or this team will keep losing.

But three other disturbing trends also need to change. Tippett noted Thursday that the Coyotes were a minus-12 in penalties over their last six-game segment, and that trend continued Thursday when Phoenix took five penalties to Vancouver's four.

Second, Phoenix has to recapture the road mojo it had last year when it posted the West's second-best road record. The Coyotes are just 3-8-3 away from Glendale this year, an ominous sign for a team that must play 10 of its final 16 on the road.

Finally, the Coyotes have to loosen up on the sticks a bit, stop trying to make pretty plays and start finishing.

"We hit the other goalie's crest more than any team I've seen in a long time," said Tippett, whose club has three goals in its last five games (all losses). "The funny thing is, you watch guys in practice. They come in and they fire pucks under the bar, they score like crazy. They get in a game and it's just pads and chest. It's all they see."

Can a few days of practice help all that? We'll see. The Coyotes have not reached a point of no returns in their season, but if the season-long issues that have troubled this team reappear next week against the Wings, Wild, Predators and/or Sharks, there may be no fixing this mess.

"It's no secret what we have to do to be better," center Antoine Vermette said. "We talked about how this team's been successful the last couple years. Every guy needs to be better, and collectively, things will take care of themselves."

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