The end of the lockout shortened season is closing in and the Coyotes aren’t ready. The downhill run to the playoffs is in full swing and the Coyotes will have a shorter season than usual if they don’t pick up the pace right now. While they are only two points out of the playoffs today, the trend is obvious and the math isn’t good.
This is the time where leadership can make a difference. Luckily, the Coyotes have leadership in spades.
Coyotes Season Off Track
The Coyotes are currently riding a ridiculous five game losing streak, the worst since Dave Tippett took over as head coach. The losses haven’t been squeakers, either. The team went three and a half games without scoring a single point. Not one. Even in that game where the drought was broken and the Kings were arguably outplayed by the Coyotes, the game was lost. That’s what counts, that’s what hurts.
Despite home ice advantage, the Coyotes lost again to the Canucks on Thursday night. They deserved to lose, their play was not up to the caliber of even the wounded Canucks. They lost in a full barn, the worst.
Shot counts are up for the Coyotes, but too many of those shots are missing the net or hitting the goalie dead center. People aren’t there to grab rebounds and slam them home. Passes are off a click, just enough to handcuff the receiver and eliminate one-timers from the repertoire. It’s frustrating to watch and it must be many orders of magnitude more frustrating on the ice. One thing leads to another and, eventually, because it SEEMS impossible to get a break and a goal, it becomes actually impossible.
After the game, the team held a players only meeting, closing the locker room doors. This is not a normal occurrence for any NHL hockey team that I’m aware of, when it happens it signifies something big. Shane Doan is rumored to have used the expletive “FRICK” in this meeting, a bad thing.
Sum Of The Parts
The Coyotes aren’t graced with famous superstar talent, there’s no marquee player people (yet) will buy a ticket to see. An owner clueless about hockey stripped assets from the team until forced into bankruptcy and the new owners, the NHL, correctly aren’t throwing much money around contribute to the problem.
Because of that and the system designed by Head Coach Tippett, the group of players assembled in Glendale win games by committee. Coyotes players have each other’s backs and stretch themselves to fill roles that aren’t in the job description for their position. Thus, two of the top four points getters on the team are defensemen.
Despite that, attendance issues are disappearing and more people are watching Coyotes hockey. The players realize that, I assume, and have taken to saluting the fans from center ice to acknowledge it.
What’s been happening lately is that the identity of the team seems to have slipped. Of course there are injury problems, but that’s not the issue. Players aren’t fulfilling their roles (as scorers, shot blockers, etc.) and also jumping up to plug holes during games. They’re playing as if distracted, perhaps by the ownership fiasco, some guys are skating around like they’re collecting a paycheck. Harsh criticism from a guy that is no hockey expert and probably not true, we’ve all been “stuck” in a rut that we can’t seem to get out of. That’s where, from up in the stands, it looks like the Coyotes are.
Captains Have A Job
After the players only meeting, Doaner stopped to talk with Fox Sports AZ’s Todd Walsh for a 3:25 chat. As always, Walsh obliged the fans by publishing the recording almost immediately on Chirbit. Feel free to listen to the whole recording (it’s a good one), but in there was a tidbit, a thought that defined the Coyotes as a team and explained why they have been successful despite long odds. Todd, who seems to have a great relationship with Doaner, lets him roll with only a few prompting questions. Shane says (around 1:52):
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 is a huge part of this team, it’s not one person on this team that isn’t important. And that’s a great feeling. It’s a great feeling when you’re winning. But, that same feeling, you have to be responsible when we lose.
That’s it in a nutshell. The above few sentences constitute the description of the Coyotes as a team that managed to battle their way to a division championship last year. That’s how Maloney manages to put a cheap but winning team on the ice. That’s why the team plays so hard for their coach. And that, hopefully, is why the team will break themselves in half to be sure they don’t disappoint their Captain.
The team is definitely on notice to perform individually and be accountable for their play. You don’t want “Angry Doan” face pointed in your direction.
Two Days Before, In Los Angeles
The Coyotes lost the prior game in LA 3-2. During that game, however, Shane Doan played like a beast. Doaner scored the only two goals in the game for the Coyotes, breaking their long scoreless streak. Doan was hitting everything in sight with clean hits, depositing the captain (no capital c) of the opposing team on the ice multiple times. Another “Chirbit” from Mr. Walsh talking with Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone after the last LA game, Stone says he was talking with Doan the night before and he (Doan) said he (Doan) was going to be the best player on the ice. And, he was.
In the game Doan pledged to be the best player on the ice, he racked up 13 hits, 12 shots on goal, and 2 goals. Those statistics are spectacularly good, top of world class good. Those hits, by the way, were aimed at top line guys for the team that holds the
Stanley Cup. And most of those guys ended up sitting on the ice after their encounter with the Captain who once deposited two at a time while grabbing the puck from them behind the net. The entire game by Doan was a thing of beauty, I tell you. If you have GameCenter Live, pull up the game and see what I’m talking about. Seriously, do it.
He played like a man possessed, he played like a movie hockey player would in the last game of the Stanley Cup championship where the whole thing rode on his back. Everybody recognized it, including boorish middle finger waving Kings fans at the game.
Even aging child actors recognized Doaner’s ferocious play. Wil Wheaton (okay, “Stand By Me” was a cool movie) tweeted from his @wilw account that “Shane Doan is a punk”, a real tribute considering the source. Interestingly, Wil was referring to a knee on knee incident that Doaner took offense to, consequently dropping his gloves as the offender Muzzin skated around behind the net to finally take refuge behind the virtual skirts of the first available zebra.
Like many other things, the measure of being a punk is differently in LA-LA land.
In a normal world you’d expect some accolades for an exemplary performance even when played on the losing side. Not when you’re a Coyotes, and not when you’re Shane Doan. Coyotes broadcaster Tyson Nash knows Doan for a loooooooong time, and tweeted:
@TysonNash: Just want to say that totally lost in the hockey world was Shane Doan’s game vs LA the other night. 13 hits, 11 shots and 2 goals. #0respect
He’s right, of course. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. I’ve even written about it a time or two myself as in “The Dangerfielding Of Shane Doan“. The fact of the matter is that Shane could easily feel disrespected by his own management, although it was during the prior regime. By all accounts, Shane took “short money” to stick around, having been told the team needed that cash to grab some scoring talent. They grabbed some scoring talent, then traded it away as Shane saw his salary moving to other teams.
With that history, Shane’s recently negotiated a contract was again for less than he could have gotten elsewhere. Partially, it must be because he assumed (as did I) that Greg Jamison was going to manage to get a deal done and keep the team in Arizona. When that finally collapsed at the end of January, it must have been a blow that felt like a disrespectful betrayal. Again.
You or I might give up and coast through our jobs after that. The Captain works the opposite way and buckles down. He’s really the largest part of hope for his team to make the playoffs this year.
There is a reason he is the Captain of the Coyotes and was Captain of the Canadian National and Canadian Olympic hockey teams. The guy is no fluke and he has earned the respect of his peers. Every single Coyotes fan loves the guy, it goes far beyond respect.
Never count Shane Doan or his team out.