Too bad that they don’t have the eighties Gretzky playing tonight. Instead they have the new-millennium version of Gretzky and he’s behind the bench. And for the first time in recent memory, the Great One is taking some desert heat.
Phoenix was one of those teams that the pundits decided, before the season, would be playoff contenders this year. And halfway through the schedule, the Coyotes looked pretty solid. Some balanced scoring, high-level goaltending and a mobile defense lifted the desert dogs to the top eight in the Western Conference. As usual, the pundits mistook a late season run last year for a lock on the playoffs this year. The same people predicted that the Oilers were now considered to be an emerging power in the west as well, and their fans reacted with shock and horror to another season of the two step…as in two wins forward, two losses back. Edmonton may yet emerge in the west, but the Coyotes have become a different story.
Somehow the wheels came off after the all-star break and by the trade deadline, the Coyotes decided to cut their losses. The three biggest names, Jokenein, Carcillo and Morris were players that the organization decided it could not afford to have in their future. Jokenein was considered to be a disappointment while Morris was known to be over-priced and facing free agency in the off season. Carcillo, was…well, according to reports out of Phoenix he just wouldn’t listen. So what happened?
Well, I’ve said repeatedly that it’s a long season with lots of ebb and flow. Certainly injuries took their toll. But my guess is, Gretz identified the above three players as guys who would never help them win. And none of these players looked happy or were playing well. Now, three players might not seem like much. But three players can destroy a team. You don’t move players you like…or that help you win. And three veterans who aren’t producing, can cause problems for a young team.
And team is everything.
Just look at our guys. It took them a while, especially after the Sundin signing and Roberto’s return, to become a complete team again. And that’s with veterans who are amongst the best leaders in the game. A team is a gestalt…the sum is different than just the collection of it’s parts. Some call it chemistry, some call it team spirit. Whatever you call it, the Canucks have it. The Coyotes did not and had to make more changes.
And the changes will keep coming for this franchise…one of which might simply be to move them. Kansas City has great music, great barbecue and a great new arena. Phoenix has none of those. And the snowbirds who are the most knowledgeable of their citizenry in terms of hockey, haven’t turned out to support the boys. Whatever the reason, the team looks dead in Phoenix…and even Dumbledore might not be able to help them rise from the ashes.
Which does not mean that we are a lock tonight. Unless you have a short-term memory problem from too many bong hits, you’ll recall how our last four game winning streak ended in southern California. These dogs will have some fight in them tonight and if the boys spend too much time reading their press clippings, we’ll be in trouble.
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And there’s not much sense in a full game report. You saw the game. We didn’t have the legs. We didn’t have the resolve. You could pick apart various parts of the game. We outshot them, but our shots were meaningless, no traffic…no rebounds. And if we were worried after the first period, we sure didn’t show it in the second period. That may have been the worst I’ve seen the boys play…since the last road trip.
So, who do you blame? Shane O’Brien? Mats Sundin? Matty Ohlund? Come on. That was a total team loss. Sure Sundin lost a face off. SOB took a bad penalty. Matty Ohlund backed off too much. Bieksa was out of position on a move by Lombardi. The twins were invisible. But come on, if ever there was a team loss, this was one. We did not move our feet. We were standing still at crucial times. We didn’t answer the Coyotes willingness to initiate. We were flat. As a team.
So, what does the team do from here. Well, the fact is, you have to put these ones behind you. You try and learn from the mistakes. You don’t get too high when you win and you don’t get too low when you lose. But we had better learn. Because to win in the playoffs you have to win on the road. And we haven’t done that a lot recently. But the great thing about hockey is that you don’t have to wait too long to redeem yourself. We’ll have to take our medicine here and recover in Dallas.