GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes’ goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Louis Domingue has performed brilliantly since Smith returned from lower-abdomen surgery on March 12, but coach Dave Tippett offered a word of caution to those ready to proclaim the duo one of the best in the NHL.
“There’s not a lot of pressure on our team right now,” Tippett said after a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Saturday. “Let’s keep that in mind.”
The same can be said of the team, which is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. While Tippett would be first in line to proclaim the Coyotes have grown from last season’s 56-point debacle to this season’s 75-point total, he also knows that the true test of a team comes when the playoffs are on the line — and he knows that progress isn’t always a straight line from bad to good.
Monday’s opponent, Calgary, is a clear example of that reality. Last season, the Flames stunned the NHL world by making the postseason and winning a playoff series after most projections had them finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference. This season has been a different story. When the Flames took the ice at Gila River Arena, they had already been eliminated from postseason contention and were one point from the bottom of the conference standings.
“It’s all relative, but ultimately our season isn’t going to end the way we expected it or wanted it to end so in the end we failed,” Flames GM Brad Treliving said. “I still believe we’re growing, but when you fall short, the question is always ‘why.’
“I’ve got some views and opinions about that but you have to get through the season when the emotions and energy have subsided so you can look at it through a clear, unbiased lens.”
When Treliving looks at the Flames through that lens, he will see the emergence of forward Johnny Gaudreau as a bona fide superstar, the emergence of T.J. Brodie as an elite NHL defenseman, and good progress from centers Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
When the Coyotes look through that same lens, they will see great contributions from Domingue and rookies Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Jordan Martinook, a Norris Trophy caliber season from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and growth from defenseman Connor Murphy.
To take the next step to playoff contender, the Coyotes will need much more, and they will need to prove they can play well in the most meaningful games.
“If somebody has great success at this time of year, you have to be careful when you’re evaluating them; you have to take that into consideration,” Treliving said. “It’s a dangerous time when a team is out of playoff picture. Instead of looking only at the finish, you compare it to a month ago when the games were critical. You ask: What are we doing now or not doing now that we were or weren’t doing when the game were life and death.”
The Coyotes should feel good about adding 19 points to last season’s total with six games still to play, but progress will prove harder to measure in the standings next season, the playoff chase will still be a challenge and there will be more backwards steps from which the team must also learn and grow.
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