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Coyotes' power play continues to struggle

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. – It has been the albatross around the neck of the Phoenix Coyotes all season. A stumbling block they must overcome. They have managed to scratch and claw all the way to the Western Conference Final – all the while dragging its Achilles' heel along for the ride.

Once again, the Phoenix power play is just getting in the way.

Dead-last in the NHL until a last-season surge allowed it to tip-toe into 29th place, Phoenix managed just 34 power-play goals in 251 chances (13.5 percent), but still managed to win its first division title in franchise history. Only two players -- Radim Vrbata (9) and Ray Whitney (8) -- have scored more than five. Adrian Aucoin (one) had more than Keith Yandle. Raffi Torres (one) had more than Mikkel Boedker.


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The playoffs have been a statistical mirror-image, with the Coyotes going 5-for-36 (13.9 percent) overall. They are now scoreless in their last 16 tries after going 0-for-5 in Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1. But even more alarming, with the man-advantage for seven minutes and 36 seconds, the Coyotes put only five shots on Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick and had no more luck establishing possession in the Kings' zone than its 5-on-5 brethren.

As the playoffs roll on and the race for the Stanley Cup intensifies power plays are as much about regaining – or sustaining – momentum as they are about scoring goals. And after a decent start early in the postseason, Phoenix is once again struggling to even establish a presence in the enemy's zone.

For the third time in the postseason, Martin Hanzal took a penalty– a retaliatory slash – just as the power play was ending. And, in the third period, after a Justin Williams hooking penalty gave the Coyotes a chance to tie the score with 9:47 left, Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was left in a bad spot as a puck left the zone and was forced to take an interference penalty seven seconds into the power play.

"It's pretty hard to sustain something when you get a big power play and it's nullified in six or seven seconds," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We've had two or three like that on the last couple series here. Those ones, they can really kind of put a dagger in your power play because you're up, you kind of get yourself where you think you have a chance to make a difference, and then the difference is taken away.

"Hanzal had a couple in the last series. We had the (Ekman-Larsson) one [Sunday] night. Those are issues that certainly don't help your power play. That being said, I thought there was some execution, just like the rest of our game that could have been much better last night. A power play (goal) could have made the difference in the game."

Last season, with basically the same cast of characters. The Coyotes scored 46 power-play goals – not enough to crack to Top 20 in the League, but not glaring at 16 percent. But this season, the bottom fell out, and after a promising start to the postseason the troubles are back.

Keith Yandle
Keith Yandle
Defense - PHX
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 7
SOG: 15 | +/-: 7
Yandle, the quarterback of the power play who had eight power play goals in the previous two seasons combined, hasn't scored one in 94 games (regular season and playoffs combined) this season.

The Coyotes had four power-play goals in the first round against Chicago – three of them by Antoine Vermette – and closed out the series with tallies by Ekman-Larsson and Vermette in the series-clinching Game 6 victory in Chicago. Radim Vrbata opened the Nashville series with a goal on Phoenix's first attempt, but that was 16 power plays ago.

"We have to be better, every player. And the guys on the power play have to be better," said Hanzal, who is counted on to set screens and hunt down rebounds in the crease, but has only three power play goals in 75 combined regular season and playoff games. "When you earn a power play, you have to make the most of it -- especially in the playoffs."

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