Mark Brown The Hockey Writers
Coyotes’ Season of Missed Opportunities
If one game could represent a microcosm of the Arizona Coyotes‘ forgettable season, circle the March 9 home encounter against the Ottawa Senators.
Two words from coach Dave Tippett, after the 3-2 overtime loss to the Sens, reflected this defeat and the season: “missed opportunities.” The combination of lost leads and an inability to complete plays doomed the Coyotes from mid-October and continues.
For a majority of their games this season, the opposition outshot the Coyotes. More times than he would like to count, goalie Mike Smith faced more than 40 shots on net and somehow, miraculously, survived a continued onslaught.
As if to turn the tables, the Coyotes unloaded an offensive barrage against Ottawa net minder Mike Condon and came away with 41 shots on net that night. That total was one shot short of the season high reached against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 23. To use Tippett’s refrain, those shots represented “missed opportunities” to put the Sens on their heels.
“Game I Really Dreaded”
Afterward, Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told The Hockey Writers that, “This was one game I really dreaded.” The Senators were coming off a 5-3 victory against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night, and Boucher pointed out that back-to-back games, especially at his time of the season, can be death traps.
As well, the Coyotes exhibited another aspect of their season malaise. That would be lack of execution on special teams.
Handed back-to-back power play opportunities in the opening period, the Coyotes did nothing with the man advantage. Coming into the Ottawa game, Arizona was ranked 27th with the man advantage, and 27th in the league at home on the power play. At the same time, the Sens were 12th in the League in killing penalties and tied for fifth with seven short-handed goals.
Still, the Coyotes failed to jump-start any offense with the man advantage. Overall, Arizona was 0-for-3 on the power play and could not score when Chris DiDomenico went off on consecutive penalties at 7:54 and 13:17 of the opening period.
In the third period, the Coyotes again had back-to-back opportunities and also failed. This time, the Sens’ Marc Methot went off for tripping (at 7:23) and Cody Ceci was also whistled for tripping at 9:50. Again, as Tippett repeated in his post-game remarks, “missed opportunities.”
In the end, the Coyotes failed to finish plays and could not bury pucks.
“We have to do a better of capitalizing on the power play,” Brendan Perlini told The Hockey Writers afterward. “We need to keep it simple and do anything it takes to get a goal.”
For a player considered on the down side of his career, Radim Vrbata, at 35-years-old, has enjoyed a rebirth with the Coyotes this season. For the Czech native, scoring is up, his leadership presence in the dressing remains pronounced and Vrbata was rewarded with an “A” on his sweater. It’s been an opportunity of which Vrbata has taken full advantage.
Vrbata celebrated his sense of achievement by participating in his 1,000th NHL game Thursday night against Ottawa. He became the 12th player in Winnipeg/Arizona franchise history to reach that level, and he is the 310th player in NHL history to play in at least 1,000 games.
This season, Vrbata leads the Coyotes in scoring with 48 points in 66 games and that includes Thursday’s loss to Ottawa. He played 494 with the Arizona franchise and that is most games with one team out of six, including the Colorado Avs, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning, in his 14-year NHL career.
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