GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes are back home, at least its home for now, looking to climb back from a two-game deficit in their first-round playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Speculation of the Coyotes’ imminent departure from Arizona is nothing new to the players, who have been dealing with the issue for more than two years now while the NHL has tried to find an owner who would keep the team in the desert, where the temperature approached triple digits over the weekend.
Not exactly hockey weather, but fewer than a thousand tickets remained for Monday night’s Game 3 of the best-of-seven series. Tradition, such as it is for this franchise, dictates all will wear the proper shirts for a “white-out.”
The Coyotes brushed aside the issue of their future beyond this series. Instead, they’re focused on trying to slow the Red Wings, specifically Pavel Datsyuk, who has two goals and three assists in two games. One of the goals and all three assists came in Detroit’s 4-3 Game 2 win on Saturday.
“He’s an all-world player, that’s for sure,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “We’ve tried a few different matchups against him that haven’t worked very well and we’ll keep trying until we find a solution.”
Coyotes captain Shane Doan said Datsyuk has “been incredible.”
“You tip your hat to him, the things he does and the way he plays,” Doan said. “You admire him and you cant give him any free opportunities. He’s so good at creating opportunities you have to make sure you don’t give him free ones and you do your best to limit that.”
The Coyotes held a team meeting at Jobing.com Arena on Sunday, with a handful of players taking part in an optional skate afterward. The Red Wings, meanwhile, skated briefly at a Scottsdale arena.
Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg made the trip but is not expected to play because of a sprained left knee.
“We played two good home games,” he said. “The last one got really close.”
The Red Wings led 4-0 before having to hold on to win.
“They had a few power plays and a five-on-three and all of a sudden you’re right back in the game,” Zetterberg said. “It happens quickly in hockey and you’ve just got to respond and I think we did.”
Shortly before the series began, reports surfaced an unnamed source as saying the decision had been made to move the Coyotes to Winnipeg after this season. NHL officials quickly denied the reports, but with the potential sale of the team to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer stalled by the threat of a lawsuit from a conservative watchdog group, the Coyotes’ future in Arizona is murky, at best.
The Coyotes found the timing of the Winnipeg reports curious.
“It’s almost a chuckle to start with,” Tippett said. “It is what it is. I think (for) our group it’s become part of the ongoing dilemma around our team that after a while you don’t even listen to it anymore. But I found it interesting that four hours before Game 1 everywhere you look there’s a thing that we’re going to Winnipeg.”
Tippett said he has enough to do to try to get his team ready to play the Red Wings rather than deal with such ongoing distractions.
The Coyotes’ Adrian Aucoin called the timing of the Winnipeg reports “kind of a joke, to be honest.”
“I thought it was kind of rude whoever threw it out there at that time,” he said, “but there’s always people looking to stir up some stuff. It’s nothing new to us. Every time we hear it it’s a couple of more weeks here, a couple of more weeks there.”
An interesting subplot is the hit Doan put on Detroit’s Johan Franzen that sent the bloodied Red Wings player to the locker room for repairs early in Game 2. Franzen said afterward that Doan should have been tossed from the game “no question about it.”
“He hit me from behind and they missed it somehow,” Franzen said. “He (the referee) could have picked charging, boarding, whatever pretty much.”
Doan laughed it off. Franzen simply lost his balance as the two went to try to be the first to hit the other, the Coyotes captain said.
“I mean, there’s absolutely nothing to it,” Doan said.
The Coyotes tried to take some comfort in the fact they almost came back from a 4-0 deficit with a big third period on Saturday. They also had a strong first period in Game 1. In between, it’s been all Detroit.
“It comes down to that desperation and controlling y our energy and making sure it’s kind of going in the right direction,” Doan said. “We’ve proven that we can do it. We just haven’t put the right combination together and they have. They’ve got a great team but realistically we win the next game at home on our ice and it’s a whole new series again.”
If not, the Red Wings will lead 3-0 and talk will surely centre on whether Game 4 will be the last for the Coyotes in Arizona.