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Coyotes' road struggles impacting playoff drive

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

EDMONTON - Success on the road has been easy to track for the Phoenix Coyotes this season.

They simply haven't had any.

Of the 18 games played away from Arena, the Desert Dogs have won only four and have been shut out seven (7!) times.

"Have we? Wow, that's bad," said Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

Added Head Coach Dave Tippett: "It's unbelievable. That's the way it's gone on the road for us this year. We better change those fortunes around in a hurry."

Due in large part to their 13-7-1 home record, the Coyotes have managed to the stay in the race. But in the season's most critical stretch, only three home games remain while six will be played on the road.

"We're down to the short strokes here," said Tippett who, since becoming the head coach in Phoenix, has guided the Coyotes to a 5-1-1 record against the Oilers at Rexall Place (10-2-2) overall. "If we don't bring our best, then we probably don't deserve to get in. It's as simple as that. We always talk about with our group that you earn the right to be a playoff team. We've had stints in the season where we thought we've played pretty well, but other times where we haven't been as good as we've needed to be.

"In a shortened season, especially for teams in the middle of the pack where we've been, your room for error is slim. When you let that slip away, you get yourself into a predicament and you're in jeopardy of missing (the playoffs)."

The Coyotes kicked off their current three-game road trip with a 2-0 loss (and were outshot 42-19) to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday at Rogers Arena.

"If it wasn't for (goaltender Mike Smith), that game probably would have been a lot worse than it looked on the scoreboard," said Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle. "Collectively, we didn't play our best game and we know that. But Smitty was great and he played great the game before that, too. We need him to be like that and he knows that. Everybody knows that when he's at his best, everyone else is, too.

"I don't know what it is about our game on the road. The year before, we were a lot better on the road than we were at home. It's hard to pinpoint why you might be better at home than on the road, or vice-versa, but we have to work ourselves out of it and play our best on the road.

"We've got a handful on the games left to prove it."

Last season the Coyotes won the Pacific Division with a 42-27-13 record (97 points) and placed third in the Western Conference as a result. This year, instead of comfortably sliding into post-season competition, the Coyotes are battling tooth-and-nail for the opportunity to play in May.

"It hasn't gone quite as well we would have hoped," said Doan, who's scored 14 goals and 54 points in 59 career games vs. Edmonton. "You can get a little complacent and forget how hard it is to be successful. Especially with the way our system and our style is, that you have to play so well for the whole game and can't have any lapses because we don't have that one guy, that game-breaker.

"For the most part we've got a lunch-bucket brigade. Our margin of error is too small and we've been on the wrong side of it too many times this season."

A win against the Oilers would vault the Coyotes into a tie with the idle, eighth-place Detroit Red Wings. That won't be easy, however, as Edmonton has won both meetings this season -- one in overtime and the other in a shootout. The Oilers are currently one point back of the Coyotes for 11th in the West.

"Every time we play these guys, we know they're a high-energy, highly-skilled team," said Yandle. "Especially here in their own barn, it's a tough place to play and they have great fans here. It's a little added toughness for us, but we have to be better. We have to work hard and try to play our game, rather than falling into theirs.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing. If you win in overtime or a shootout, regulation, it doesn't matter. We have to get points and win as many games as we can. This road trip is crucial for us."

"They're going to play with the desperation to try and get themselves (into the playoffs)," added Tippett. "The last couple years they haven't been in this position, so you expect them to come at you with everything they can to try and get a win."

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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