GLENDALE, Ariz. — Eight minutes away.
It could be a catchy movie title but it is also the defining segment of this seven-game Coyotes’ homestand.
When Arizona hosted the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 14 at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes built a 2-0 lead after two periods. They were playing with pace and they were playing with electricity against one of the NHL’s marquee opponents.
Midway through the third period, it looked like Arizona was going to open its seven-game homestand with three straight wins, but Pavel Datsyuk’s power-play goal started a late Wings rally at the 11:50 mark, Gustav Nyqvist’s power-play goal at 14:20 forced overtime, and Danny DeKeyser’s overtime goal had a deflating effect from which the Coyotes still haven’t recovered any air.
Since DeKeyser’s goal, the Coyotes have lost four straight games (0-3-1). They have scored just two goals in their last 203:18 of play while dropping games to Detroit (3-2), New Jersey (2-0), Buffalo (2-1) and San Jose (3-1).
Remember coach Dave Tippett’s words when this homestand began?
“It’s a major part of our season,” he said. “With the seven games at home you could look at it almost as a full playoff series. How we deal with it could really give us a good kick start to the back half of the schedule.”
With four losses, Arizona has already lost that mock playoff series and now it will face the toughest of its seven home opponents — the Los Angeles Kings — to close this homestand on Saturday.
“We wanted four wins and we only got two,” captain Shane Doan said. “It is what it is. We can’t do anything about it so we’ve got to find a way to win the next one and, once we go on the road, find a way to win those.”
Professional sports lend themselves to over-analysis. It would be rash to call this lost opportunity on home ice a pin in the Coyotes’ playoff balloon, but if Arizona misses the postseason in the increasingly competitive Pacific Division, you can bet the team will look back upon this stretch as a critical misstep in its quest.
“Tonight was a measuring stick game and we didn’t have enough players measure up,” Tippett said after Friday’s loss to the Sharks dropped Arizona out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. “The pace you need to play at in a game like that has to be top-notch from the start because that affects your execution. We didn’t play at a good enough pace and we didn’t execute well enough to get ourselves off to a good start.”
The Coyotes were so close to entering the All-Star break on a high note — a true break since none of their players will be represented at the midseason classic in Nashville. Instead, they need success against the Kings and in at least one of two road games against Minnesota and Winnipeg to enter the break with positive momentum.
While the Ottawa Senators overcame an 11-point deficit at the All-Star break last year to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and the Minnesota Wild made up seven points in the West, history has not been kind to teams out of playoff position at the All-Star break.
The Coyotes need to stop their tailspin now or risk widening the gap between themselves and the playoff field.
“We know exactly where we are,” Tippett said. “We haven’t played that bad. We just haven’t gotten the results.”
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