Arizona Rubber

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Coyotes need to play desperate, confident down stretch

 

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes

Consistency.

Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet continues to pound that core value into the hockey souls of each one of his players. If there are key elements of the game upon Tocchet preaches, they are reliability and regularity.

When speaking about the destiny of his club, Tocchet expands on being consistency and the ability to find a steady, notable method for each game.

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Addressing losing streaks and slumps, Tocchet offers the criteria of three games and once the Coyotes hit that number, worry becomes apparent.

For the better part of the season, the Coyotes looked down to other teams in the Pacific Division from a perch of first place. Through games of late February and into early March, the Coyotes’ longest losing streak was only three and that was on two occasions. These included games from Dec. 23-31 and Jan. 16-30.

Yet, that is in the rear-view mirror and sights are now set for a dramatic finish.

With numerous clubs surging around them, the Coyotes find themselves in a rather desperate situation. Here’s a club that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in eight years and for most of the season, they danced on the post-season bubble.

Now, the stretch is great. Bunched with several clubs edging toward precious few playoffs positions, the Coyotes clearly recognize the urgency of the moment.

“In these late games, it’s all about responses and the ability to push back,” said Coyotes forward Derek Stepan. “We need to be desperate and we need to be confident. Each night, we need those two points. Because these are precious points, we need to stick to our game each night.”

With Tocchet’s desire to play consistent hockey, there was an important sequence through February that could foreshadow whether this club skates in April or calls for tee times. With February wins at home against quality opposition like Edmonton, Washington, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay but losing to the Florida Panthers at Gila River Arena, the push to play each night at a higher level is ever-present.

If the Coyotes are to make a push and a late season surge, several players, notably forwards, need to put the puck in the net.

A recurring issue from last season’s playoff run would be lack of scoring. From one of the most anemic teams last season to the current post-season quest, there has been little change. Despite the acquisitions of Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall (pictured) and the emergence of Conor Garland, lack of scoring remains the dominant issue.

By early March, only San Jose, Los Angeles and Dallas had scored fewer goals than Arizona in the Western Conference. By March 1, the Coyotes had only one 20-goal scorer and that was Garland, who has led the club in goals for most of the season.

Keep in mind, the Coyotes were the only NHL team last season without a 20-goal scorer.

Two forwards who may spend more time in the press box during March could be Michael Grabner and Christian Fischer.

By early March, each had not reached 10 goals and rookie center Barrett Hayton was given more ice time. On a line with Kessel and Garland, Hayton returned to the lineup on Feb. 20 in St. Louis and averaged close to 14 minutes of ice time for games into early March.

Equally important is memory.

The Coyotes clearly recall they came very close to qualifying for the playoffs last season and this time, the drive is just as fierce.

“The situation is much like we went through last year,” Arizona goaltender Darcy Kuemper said. “We were fighting for the last wild card spot. It’s so close right now. It will probably come down to the last game. We have to take advantage of every situation and get as many points as we can.”

Down the stretch, Tocchet identified the key variable.

“We have to play desperate very game,” Tocchet said. “It’s game by game with us. Teams have capitalized on us and we do not capitalize. It’s consistency and we need consistent scoring. The margin of error is so small with our team that you have to be really diligent, especially offensively.”

Photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(March 13, 2020)


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