It is easy to label a team “bad” and push them out of sight and out of mind without another thought. The Arizona Coyotes’ record suggests they fall into that category, but the reason for the lack of success has varied throughout the season.
Early on, the plurality of the blame rested on the shoulders of poor coverage in the defensive zone and shoddy goaltending. In the season’s first five weeks, Arizona lost four games in which they scored three or more goals.
Recently, Mike Smith‘s play has turned around and it’s the team’s offense, specifically lack thereof, that is the primary culprit for the recent stretch of losses. In the past 40 days or so, the Coyotes are 2-14-2 and have dropped into Buffalo and Edmonton’s range at the bottom of the standings.
The Coyotes came out of the All-Star break winning three, and picking up points in four, of their first five games. Then, everything simply fell apart at the seems.
It’s not likely Arizona would have parlayed that quick start into a playoff run, but instead of putting together something to build off of in the future, the team crumbled. Lack of offense is the reason why.
In the team’s last 18 games, the Coyotes have scored a grand total of 23 goals. Potting 1.28 goals per game is not enough to get it done even with a stellar defense/goalie combination.
During that stretch, the Coyotes have scored two or more goals just six times and three or more goals just once. Most nights see just one puck hit the back of the net from an Arizona stick. On two occasions, even one goal was too tough to muster.
Head coach Dave Tippett has said time and time again that his team’s offensive woes are not for a lack of effort. On a handful of occasions, Arizona found itself with a shots on goal advantage when the clock hit triple-zero.
It’s about more than effort, try and the will to win — it’s about talent and the ability to take advantage of scoring chances. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, the group they ice on a nightly basis consists of young talent still learning how to have success at the highest level and a plethora of two-way veterans best suited for bottom-six roles.
Arizona is icing 10 players younger than 25 and three more under 28. Such is life after the trade deadline for a team near the bottom of the standings.
The lack of wins, goals and offensive output is not about tanking or apathy near the end of a losing season. Players’ livelihoods are tied to their effort and success on the ice and they have every reason to win. However, professional sports are as much about skill as they are about effort.
A lost season does allow for a few on-ice positives. The ability to tinker with lineup construction and get a long look at young prospects is invaluable. The final game result may not matter in the playoff standings, but the experience and knowledge gained in these games cannot be replicated elsewhere.
So take these final 13 games for what they have become — an extended audition for the the 2015-16 season. The drive will be there, the results may not.
The Coyotes have a lot of fight left in them, it just may not manifest itself in the box score every night.