How the Coyotes take the next step

The Coyotes' recent struggles have left coach Dave Tippett looking for answers. Marianne Helm/Getty Images

ST. LOUIS -- It’s one thing to see the Phoenix Coyotes' puck luck as a blue line on a graph. The website ExtraSkater.com allows you to track a team’s luck through the advanced stat PDO -- which measures shooting and save percentage -- in a line graph of 10-game increments throughout the season. In tracking the Coyotes, you see it soar as the team racked up goals in October and November. Then, in January, it nosedives.

It’s quite another thing to see that nosedive in the flesh. Instead of a line on a screen, it’s a frustrated Radim Vrbata, sitting by himself in the small Scottrade Center visitors dressing room Tuesday night wondering just how this game against the Blues got away. How, if his point-blank wrister that beat Jaroslav Halak had been a hair lower, it wouldn’t have been denied by the crossbar.

“That’s the way it goes lately,” he said, staring down searching for answers. “You beat the goalie, but there’s the crossbar. That’s the way it goes for us right now.”

It looks like a frustrated Dave Moss, who in a postgame chat started second-guessing whether he should have shot sooner than he did when Halak made an impressive stick save on his third-period shot.

The Coyotes lost this game 2-1, their fourth consecutive loss. In part it's because goals that were going in earlier this season aren’t any longer.

“Early on in the year, we were getting some puck luck for sure. Getting bounces. Finding ways to score goals,” Moss said. “When you’re struggling as a team, those aren’t going in.”

It’s been an uncharacteristic losing streak for the Coyotes, who instead of focusing on trying to hang with the elite Pacific teams are now watching the Minnesota Wild and the final wild card spot just as closely. Over the past few seasons, the Coyotes have been one of league’s most effective teams of finding ways to earn points. If they were going to lose, at least they would get into overtime and get that "loser point."

In crunching numbers from the 2011-12 season through this weekend, the Coyotes had 63 regulation wins in 122 games, which put them at No. 16 in the league in that category. But as the games went longer, their league ranking improved. They ranked No. 16 in the league in regulation points (126), No. 13 in OT points (25) and No. 6 in shootout points (48) in that span.

This four-game losing streak is uncharacteristic because, until Tuesday night, the Coyotes haven’t even kept it close. They’ve lost these games by a combined score of 16-6.

“Lately, luck wasn’t on our side,” injured defenseman Zbynek Michalek said after getting a Tuesday afternoon skate in while his teammates rested following their loss to the Jets on Monday night. “Maybe we are not working hard enough for those opportunities and points. It’s a long season; everyone goes through ups and downs. Right now, we’re at our low.”

It’s been an interesting season for the Coyotes. Thanks in part to that early season success, they’re averaging 2.85 goals per game, which puts them at No. 8 in the league. The Coyotes' power play is No. 9 in the league (at 19.6 percent) in large part because of the duo of defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who combined to score the Coyotes' only goal Tuesday night against the Blues. Yandle, who has been in a tailspin since missing out on being named to Team USA, fed Ekman-Larsson, who buried a wrister past Halak.

A potent offense and strong power play aren’t necessarily the first things you think of when you think about Coyotes hockey. The season they advanced to the Western Conference finals, the Coyotes were in the bottom half in the league in scoring, and featured the league’s second-worst power play.

Their identity has been a team that scratches and claws its way to a point or two, and for years has done it in the face of constant uncertainty surrounding the franchise.

With new and stable ownership, Dave Tippett was ready for this team to move beyond that identity. Right now, they’re stuck in transition.