*CLANG!*…Bring out your dead.
*CLANG!*…Bring out your dead.
*CLANG!*…Bring out your dead.
That sound and call comes from the NHL cart man making his way through the bottom portion of the standings, collecting the remains of those whose playoff chances are either dead or dying. This time of the season he’s quite busy as the bodies throughout the league have already begun piling up.
While only the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers have officially seen their postseason aspirations kick the oxygen habit heading into Monday’s action, there are a few others circling the drain and have been placed on the cart as well…such as the Flames and Hurricanes. And it’s surely just a matter of time before the playoff dreams of Nashville, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia eventually flat-line and assume room temperature.
One team that seemed to have had a spot reserved on the cart when the trade deadline came and went on April 3 was the Phoenix Coyotes. They emerged from that day having cast off the likes of Matthew Lombardi, Raffi Torres and Steve Sullivan in exchange for youth and draft picks. So it appeared that even the Yotes front office was ready to send their yet-to-be cold remains away with the cart man as well. This was compounded by the fact that they had just finished off the month of March on a 1-5-2 slide before beating the LA Kings 3-1 on April 2.
But that victory has led to a 4-1-1 spurt, and in the quite of the desert night you can almost hear them proclaim, “I’m not dead…I don’t want to go on the cart”.
The Coyotes late-season surge has placed them in the midst of a battle for the last couple of Western Conference playoff spots. The others clinging to life are the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars. Dallas woke up Sunday morning sitting in that eighth and final playoff spot following Saturday’s 2-1 over the San Jose Sharks, however they went to bed in ninth after the Wings disposed of the Preds. The victory gave Detroit 47 points along with the Wild, Minnesota getting the nod for seventh due to tie breakers. The Blue Jackets are tied with the Stars at 45 points but the Jackets sit in tenth place given they have fewer wins. Phoenix occupies the eleventh place out west with 43 points, so they’ll have to climb over at least three of those who sit just above them if they are to qualify for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Working to their advantage is they have a game in hand over Detroit and Columbus.
With things so bunched up in the middle of the Western standings, and with games remaining now in single digits, it is obvious points are at a premium. “It’s tight in the standings and there aren’t too many games left in the season,” said center Antoine Vermette following last Wednesday’s win over Edmonton. “We are well aware of the situation we are in and how important every single point is right now.”
This is also why when they travel to a place like Cal-GARY, it is imperative they depart with two points and cannot be satisfied with the one loser-point like they did in their 3-2 OT loss to the Flames Friday night. As the Coyotes captain Shane Doan pointed out, ”That was obviously big to get a point, but not good enough, we need to get two. You have to try and stay within striking distance.”
Indeed Phoenix is fighting to stay alive and the path to the playoffs is not an easy one for them. As head coach Dave Tippet put it following Sunday’s morning skate, its “hockey the hard way”.
But as Tippett explained while addressing members of the press, as long as there is life there is hope. “When you are playing for your life, that’s what drives people,” he said. “There should be no lack of energy now or no lack of enthusiasm going into games, because these are huge games.”
“These are like playoff games for us right now.”
If the Yotes are to remain off the cart much longer …if they are not to become bereft of life, or see their metabolic process become history, fall off the twig, kick the bucket, shuffle off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and join the bleedin’ choir invisible…then certain things will have to happen for them.
First, they are going to need outstanding work from their main man between the pipes, Mike Smith, who has performed well since returning from injury on April 6. That night he stopped all 24 shots faced in a 4-0 win over the Avs, and in the four games since returning to the ice has kicked out all but 5 of the 120 shots faced, (.958 SV%).
Another factor in determining the Coyotes success is physical play. According to coach Tippett, it proved to be the key ingredient between the win versus the Oilers and only gaining a point against the Flames last week.
“If you get physical energy like we did in Edmonton (it makes a difference)”, he told members of the media. “It took a toll on us there, but that’s the way we’re going to have to play.”
Getting better on the power play would be of great help as well. The Coyotes are successful on the man advantage but 14.8 percent of the time this season, 25th in the league. Thars goals in them-thar power play hills, and mining out a few more of these nuggets could very well be the difference in Ws and Ls. Oh yeah, this is the NHL… so, OTLs too.
Finally, they are also going to have to find a way to perform better on the road where they are just 5-9-6. Following a big game against the Sharks Monday night, they then travel to St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit. After welcoming back the Sharks then the CBJs next week, they close out the regular season in Anaheim. Not an easy road to hoe as you can see.
“We haven’t been as strong as we would like to be on the road,” Doan stated prior to the game in Cal-GARY. “We have five games left away from home and we need to answer some questions. We need to stay above .500 on the road the rest of the way.”
Actually, I’d say they need at minimum six of the remaining eight points found on the road, otherwise…
*CLANG!*….Bring out your dead.
*CLANG! * …Bring out your dead.