I rarely get out to Glendale to see the Phoenix Coyotes play. Though the team is last in its division, I checked out Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (still one of the worst names in sports). Here are impressions I took away from the game, which Phoenix lost 3-1.
Coyotes fans overall still have no clue about hockey. Judging from the number of people squealing “just shoot it” during a five-on-three power play that got the Coyotes back into the game, “fans” here are still dilettantes. Stringing together an endless number of passes against a team that’s down two players is smart hockey. It keeps the penalty killers on the ice for a long time. And the more they chase the puck, the more fatigued they get. This leads to mistakes that can – and did – lead to a goal. I’d guess that those yelling for shots at the first opportunity have never played the sport.
That said, I’d like one of the forwards on the outside of the box to move toward the front of the net during power plays. Causing chaos obstructs the goalie’s vision and increases the chance of a deflection or a tip-in. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller demonstrated good vision and solid positioning. That makes it vital to disrupt his vision and keep him guessing.
Speaking of goalies, I’ve never seen a convincing performance from Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. I’ve seen him look good on television, and his stats seem decent. But everytime I see a game live, I see a goalie with weak fundamentals. He sets up deep in his crease, relying on quick reflexes to react to the puck. Contrast that with Hiller, who aggressively cuts down angles, squares his body to the puck and just allows shots to hit him. Bryzgalov doesn’t seem to play his angles as well as the sport’s better goalies, and this can leave him more exposed if the defense doesn’t play well in front of him.
The Coyotes are lazy passers. The third Anaheim goal was a classic example of a professional player making a lazy, high school-player mistake: Ducks forward Cory Perry made an expert read on Coyotes defender Sami Lepisto. He could see the defender was considering an outlet pass between the faceoff circles; Perry reacted fast enough to intercept the pass and released his shot before Bryzgalov could establish his stance. The Arizona Republic called Lepisto’s gaffe a key moment of the game, and I agree: I can only hope that Coach Dave Tippett has some really harsh words for Lepisto. There’s no excuse for that sort of error at this level. Similar mistakes plagued the Coyotes in both zones, with Ducks players picking off passes. Sometimes, Coyotes players were just picking the wrong pass. Other times, they passed too softly or didn’t get good contact on the puck. All fundamental mistakes.
The Coyotes need to more aggressively converge on the opposition’s net. Traffic in front of the net leads to goals. More bodies increases the chances of deflections. More bodies obscure the goalie’s view. It creates some intimidation and displays commitment and urgency. I’ll admit, driving to the net is scary. Bad things can happen (such as the gore left on the ice after a Shane Doan shot opened a cut on the head of Ducks player Ryan Getzlaf). But that’s why these guys get paid so much. The Ducks did a superior job of crowding the net and pressuring the Coyotes’ net.
It’s tempting to blame the ice at Jobing.com Arena for some of the Coyotes’ puck-handling woes. But that doesn’t hold up – the Ducks played on the same ice, yet looked several degrees crisper and more composed.