GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes have been successful this season without an efficient power play.
They ranked 28th in the NHL in the regular season, but they still won 50 games.
Phoenix has gone a combined 0 for 9 with a man advantage over the past two playoff games with the Detroit Red Wings and still managed a split.
But as the Coyotes prepare for Game 5 on Friday with the teams tied at two games apiece, the feeling in their locker-room is they must improve their special-teams play if they are to win this series.
“We’ve just got to get momentum for our team and get us going and feeling good about ourselves,” Keith Yandle said of his team’s power play. The Coyotes are 0 for 14 for the series after scoring on their first three opportunities.
Phoenix also needs better results from a penalty-kill unit that has allowed Detroit to score on 4 of 11 power plays after the Red Wings’ 1-for-6 performance in Game 1.
“They’re doing an unreal job,” Coyotes centre Matthew Lombardi said. “That is one of the best power plays around.”
Detroit, while not happy with the number of penalties it has taken, is pleased with how it has dominated in this area.
“Our power play has been chipping in, scoring a goal here and there for us and really getting us going or getting us a lead in games,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Special teams has been a big part of our success as of late. … Strong special teams can win you a series or win you a game at the right moment.”
That was the case in Game 4. After Detroit went up 1-0 on a power-play goal in the second period, Phoenix had three man advantages but couldn’t even the score.
“We had opportunities to tie the game up there when it was one-nothing,” Yandle said. “We just failed to get a goal. It was the outcome of the game, not scoring on the power play.”
Not only were the Coyotes not finding the back of the net, they weren’t putting themselves in good enough position on the power play, coach Dave Tippett said.
“I didn’t think we were finding enough shooting lanes, creating enough shooting lanes to get the pucks to the net. … As the game wore on, I felt that our execution didn’t get any better,” he said. “It actually got worse.”
The Red Wings put the game away by scoring twice in a span of 25 seconds late in the third.
“Our penalty kill’s been good with the exception of Game 1,” Dan Cleary said. “So we have to do the things we’re doing, stay with it, get in lanes, play aggressive and don’t give them any free opportunities.”
Shane Doan’s physical play sparked Phoenix’s power play in Game 1, and he said he is hopeful he can return for Game 5. Phoenix’s captain missed Game 4 with an upper body injury after leaving Game 3 on Sunday when he stumbled over Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and went crashing into the boards during the second period.
Doan participated in the first half of Thursday’s practice before leaving the ice for treatment. Tippett said Doan will be a game-time decision Friday.
If Doan doesn’t play, Phoenix will look to Ed Jovanovski to take over for Doan as a physical distraction. The six-foot-three Jovanovski was camped out in the crease during Thursday’s practice, giving the Coyotes three defencemen on the power play. They’re hoping the personnel change will do a better job of blocking the sight lines of Howard, who is coming off his best post-season performance.
Howard shut out Phoenix on Tuesday and on Thursday was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s top rookie.
“It’s an honour,” said Howard, who was 37-15-10 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .924 save percentage during the season. “I’m very thankful, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without these guys. They played so well in front of me.”