After an impressive run against the St. Louis Blues that carried into a lengthy homestand at Gila River Arena, the Coyotes appeared poised to further distance themselves from the rest of the division and firmly plant into the 4th spot in the West.
Then the Kings came calling
After closing out St. Louis’ 7 game “series” with 2 games at home the Coyotes have fallen flat on the ice against the Los Angeles Kings. Two bad losses for the club have them 1-2-2 to start the homestand and now flipped with the Kings for 4th and 5th in the division. The Kings coming in to the series found themselves on a rebound of sorts picking up 2 wins after they were falling down in the standings and now sporting a 4 game win streak thanks to the Coyotes they have leap frogged right back into the thick of things in the division.
For the Coyotes, a team that played hard against St. Louis they showed just about no bite here against the Kings in a lost set. Grabbing only 1 out of a possible 4 points is not going to cut it when you are fighting for the probable 1 playoff spot vacancy in the division. Even more so when you have plenty of games remaining against the likes of Vegas and Colorado.
The Kings simply dominated the first game on Thursday night both in offensive production and in general 5v5 play. The Coyotes were outplayed soundly by a team that ranks 31st – dead last in expected 5v5 goal rate. After giving up 2 in the first to the renaissance man of the year Dustin Brown, the Short Leash Line notably Conor Garland brought the Coyotes back to life. Phil Kessel netted his 5th and the Coyotes found themselves back in it despite being outshot and outplayed for the majority of the game.
From there on out, the Coyotes fell back into the classic Tocchet trap style hockey which did result in the Coyotes getting a point in a game they did not deserve, but after a lackluster overtime they fell in the shootout.
On Saturday, following the loss the Coyotes played a much better game. The action was back and forth for the majority of the time albeit the Short Leash Line was held quiet for most of the game. Garland again continued to be the engine driving the team and is quickly becoming an easy target for other teams angst which leads us to a problem.
Teams have been taking liberties against Garland and that has become amplified here against the Kings. Simply put, the Coyotes have no bite and it was brutally apparent when Brown practically mugged Garland to no response by the Coyotes.
Lawson Crouse despite over 13 minutes in ice time was largely invisible in the game, dealing only 1 hit and not a single shot on goal. Off to a truly tough start on the year, including time on the shelf due to injury Crouse appears to be a shell of his normal playing style. Christian Fischer albeit not the physical presence that Crouse is known but still an effective checker also has continued to fall backwards in almost every area from previous seasons.
While the depth players of Tyler Pitlick, Drake Caggiula are continuing to provide fits to the opposition and Johan Larsson with John Hayden not afraid to mix it up, the team needs their big guy in Crouse to get back to form or somehow add another piece to it. This team does not have big and physical star players like Colorado does in MacKinnon or Landeskog to counter the abuse.
The Short Leash Line has to be complemented by depth scoring which we’ve seen better of but also physical play that punishes the opposition so that the liberties against the stars like Garland is reduced. I am not talking the fighter style of yesteryear but teams have to know the nonsense that has been tossed at the star guys wont fly. The fact that its been a crutch for years now under a Rick Tocchet team is a bit surprising.
On a final note – Barrett Hayton did not dress for both Kings games as he was a healthy scratch for the games. So far on the year, Hayton has impressed in parts but has not been much of a factor in the majority of his playing time. It looks like the smarter move rather than sitting in the press box would be for him to get some time down in Tucson to build on his game. This was something I discussed more in details during the “Curious Case of the Coyotes” series which was completed prior to the drop of the puck on the season.