GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Scoring was a cause of concern before the season began for the Arizona Coyotes and has proven true during a disappointing 10-16-3 start.
The recent 1-6-1 slump is part of a string of eight consecutive home losses at Gila River Arena (0-6-2). The past four home games, including a 5-1 loss against the Nashville Predators Thursday, have seen the Coyotes outscored 17-3 and losing each game by at least three goals. Most of the third periods have been non-competitive.
But coach Dave Tippett, who has avoided long losing streaks during his coaching career by emphasizing core values, continues to hammer home the same point to his team: Until the strengths of the Coyotes – defense and goaltending – start to improve, any offensive improvement is even further away.
"To win in this league on a consistent basis you have to be able to defend and you need good goaltending – which both play into good penalty killing," Tippett said. "Those are the aspects that make you win, and we haven’t had enough of that this season."
Players who aren’t defending won’t play, and more lineup changes are in store Saturday.
Center Sam Gagner, who has three goals and 10 points in his first 29 games with the Coyotes, is expected to be a healthy scratch against the Minnesota Wild for the first time. Defenseman Connor Murphy, who was benched halfway through the loss against Nashville, is also out of the lineup. Forward B.J. Crombeen and defenseman Chris Summers will play against the Wild.
Goalie Mike Smith continues to struggle with a 3.35 goals-against average and .889 save percentage. He allowed five goals on Thursday and will sit Saturday with Devan Dubnyk getting the start. Dubnyk has lost his past two starts after going 5-0-1, and his goals-against average rose to 2.74. But blown assignments that force players to help and force the goalies to make big saves are keeping Tippett up at night as well.
"If the goalie stands on his head and makes save after save and wins the game, everybody walks away happy," Tippett said. "But the same mistakes are being made. We need to do more things right if we expect to be rewarded.”"
Because of the struggles, the Coyotes are trying to find a solution.
"There is belief in the room and belief in teammates in each other," Arizona forward Joe Vitale said. "And we have individual belief in one’s self with everyone here. We could be a lot more shaken, a lot more fragile than we are. It’s important to stay positive and work your way through it."
The Wild are coming off a 2-1 loss against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday and are 4-4-1 in the past nine games. The loss dropped them five points behind the Sharks and the pack of teams fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs prior to play on Saturday. The unsatisfying results prompted Minnesota coach Mike Yeo to have an extended conversation with the Wild before practice on Friday in Glendale.
"We’re tired of being on the cusp, we’re tired of being close," Yeo told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Friday. "And we need to demand better than what we’ve been bringing. We’re better than what we’ve been showing consistently. We can look at last game and we can say we were close and we could have won the game, but we can’t accept saying that.
"It would be a mistake to not think that our backs aren’t against the wall a little bit here. We’re behind. We’re not at the level and we’re not where we want to be right now. If that’s the motivation we need, that’s fine. Let’s use it. We should not be accepting of where we’re at right now and we need to demand more."
Here are the projected lineups:
Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Thomas Vanek
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter - Charlie Coyle - Justin Fontaine
Ryan Carter - Erik Haula - Kyle Brodziak
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Christian Folin - Jonas Brodin
Justin Falk- Nate Prosser
Scratched: Stu Bickel
Injured: Matt Cooke (lower body); Keith Ballard (concussion, facial fractures)
Suspended: Marco Scandella
Mikkel Boedker - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Joe Vitale – B.J. Crombeen - Lauri Korpikoski
Tobias Rieder - Martin Hanzal - Martin Erat
Brandon McMillan – Kyle Chipchura – David Moss
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle – David Schlemko
Michael Stone – Chris Summers
Scratched: Alexandre Bolduc, Sam Gagner, Connor Murphy
Injured: Brandon Gormley (lower body)
Status report: The Coyotes recalled Bolduc from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League on Friday but he won’t be in the lineup. … Gormley is getting close to returning from injury but won’t play.
Who's hot: Yandle tied Randy Carlyle for fourth place on the all-time franchise list with his 226th assist Thursday. … Doan has 12 goals and 36 points in 50 games against the Wild. … Smith has a 2.12 goals-against average against the Wild but is 4-7-1 in 12 decisions. … Parise had a five-game scoring streak (two goals, six assists) end on Thursday in San Jose. … Niederreiter has eight goals since Nov. 13 and is two shy of his career-high of 14 goals.