Coming off of a 3-game win streak is hard. Continuing it in back to back games, is even harder, especially against a team like the New York Islanders. The Arizona Coyotes faced that challenge, and unfortunately couldn’t make it to a fourth win.
The Coyotes arrived back in Arizona at 2:30 am on Saturday, November 8th. The team had a game against the Islanders, who were well-rested and ready to get out on the ice. The Coyotes were not so well rested, and you could tell in their play. It wasn’t sloppy, it just wasn’t the kind of game that they need to be out there playing, and a group of exhausted players is enough to not have a pristine game. Head coach Dave Tippett commented on the back-to-back games saying, “the guys show up and they go to work and you can tell there are times when your fore-check isn’t quite as crisp, the power play wasn’t quite as crisp, but you try to work through that to find a way to win”.
Both teams held strong, and the game stayed even with no goals until the very end of the third period. With 2:71 left in the third, the Isles Frans Nielsen got one behind Coyotes ‘tender Mike Smith. Even with a last-minute power play for the ‘Yotes, they couldn’t knock one in.
The Power Play
The Coyotes power play started out so well. Most of the goals produced during games were on the PP. This was actually something that they have been working on to not just limit themselves there. You can only rely on your PP for so long, until you need to produce on the 5-on-5. The Coyotes had lots of chances, they had 5 PP opportunities. The ineffectiveness was by no means from a lack of trying. The execution wasn’t there, though, and that’s what held them back from getting shots through. Out of the ‘Yotes 19 shots of the game, 9 of them came out of their 5 PP’s. Coach Tippet brought up the tired players again when asked about the PP saying, “We didn’t generate a whole lot, you can see that fatigue was a factor in our game a little bit, but that being said we hung around the game.”
There is still a lot of improvement to go on this, and they’re scoreless on the power play in the last three games they have played. This has been a work in progress all year, and while out on the ice, it looks like it’s getting better, they still don’t have the execution that Coach has been talking about the last couple of games.
Smith Holding Strong
With Mike Smith’s not-so-strong start to the season, there has been an immense improvement in his play. He looks comfortable, he’s getting the big saves, he’s playing the puck; these are the signs that he’s getting back in his groove. When the season started, especially after the first game, he was admittedly “not comfortable”in the net. This gave several opportunities for backup goalie Devan Dubnyk to have a chance, but Smith is now in the right groove.
Smith is a player that comes out of the net a lot. Watch any game, and you will see that he likes to play the puck a little bit more than most goalies. He makes passes, he comes out of the crease, at some points he might give you a heart-attack for staying out for too long. When he is working like this, that’s when you know he is feeling right. You see a lot of this in his last couple of games, and he has been incredibly effective.
There were some shots that the Islanders had that would have easily been a goal. Mike Smith was blocking them left and right. Those one-on-one breakaways were no issue, he looked like he could save those in his sleep. The Islanders had 33 shots on goal, and Smith saved all but one. The goal they scored looked like Smith didn’t even get a chance to react to who had the puck, before it was being shot at him. Some distractions in front of the net lead to him letting in a difficult goal to save.
His teammates are very impressed with his improvement, and are making it clear that the reason they are even getting close to wins is because of Smith. Forward Sam Gagner said that “if [Smith] he keeps playing like this he’s going to give us a chance to win every night so that gives us confidence.”
His performance keeps getting better, and it looks like there is indeed hope for the ‘Yotes starting goaltender.
For a team that prides themselves in their defense, The Coyotes surely haven’t looked strong in the defending zone.The pressure surely can be a lot, especially when there are such high expectations from some players. The past several games have been a breakthrough for the team’s defense, because they are finally getting closer to where they need to be.
First, you have Keith Yandle who is actually +1 with 11 points on the season. His efforts have been a powerful factor in the Coyotes play, so far. He’s breaking through into their offensive zone, he’s getting shots on the net, and he’s blocking shots on his defending zone. He looks strong, and he’s actually tied for the most shots on the team at 53.
On the other hand, you have Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has been out on the ice for a lot of goals against. His +/- is -10, and it’s improved since the beginning of the season. His time on ice the games leading up to tonight have been close, and have even surpassed 30 minutes. His average TOI per game has been 26:30 going into the game against the Islanders. There hasn’t been a game recently where he wasn’t leading the team with minutes, every game (last night he just barely pushed past Yandle to get the most).
OEL has the look of a super-star. He very well could be one of the best defenders in the league, one day. He has struggled getting into the groove, this season and Arizona Central’s Sarah McLellan has said that it’s probably due to OEL “trying to do too much”. She makes a great point, considering the pressure put on him to be the player that the team has seen him be. He’s been the deciding factor in two home overtime wins this season, and he’s put up 8 points. He is tied with Yandle with 53 shots on goal and his slap-shot is one that can’t be missed. Offensively, he’s been great, but defensively he has a long way to go.
The defense tonight blocked 13 shots, and besides some messiness, they helped Smith out a ton.
The Coyotes offense has never been one to make headlines. You have your good players, but no big named superstar. This is something that the Coyotes really lack. They don’t have the execution that some other teams have, and it is evident in games like this one against the Islanders.
When your defense is strong, and your offense can’t execute, then there is no way that the game is going to be won. The Islanders are a very underrated team, and they have some power-houses. They also gave the Coyotes a lot of opportunities to score on the PP, and they just couldn’t. When you only have 19 shots in a game and have 5 power plays, then there is obviously a missing piece.
Captain Shane Doan expounded upon the offensive lacking saying “You can play great defensively, but if you don’t score it doesn’t really help, so we need to find that balance and find a way to generate offense.” They need to find a way to produce full-strength, or it is going to be a really long season.
The team has produced 32 goals in 15 games, so far. The main thing right now is the execution of plays, and staying consistent in their game. Consistency is key, and they are starting to improve on it, but it’s still not quite there.
Overall, the team is improving. The mistakes that you saw at the beginning of the season have been fixed, or are improving every game. There are still key elements that are missing in the game like offensive performance, but it’s hard to judge after a game that you know they were physically exhausted.
The team has two days until their next game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, November 11th, and it’s surely going to be a nice break without games.