Well, two down and four to go. Two more in St. Louis, and a pair in Glendale. The Arizona Coyotes will learn a great deal about themselves and what to expect during the remainder of the season beginning tomorrow. Let’s get this party started.
What better way is there to measure the strength of the Arizona Coyotes than going head to head with a tough, storied franchise like the St. Louis Blues for six straight games? In Tuesday night’s game, the Arizona Coyotes started effectively against the mighty Blues but withered down the stretch, losing to a much heavier and physical team. Do the Yotes chalk it up to youthful inexperience, dumb penalties, and missed assignments in their defensive zone? Poor finishing on offense?
The game on Thursday paralleled the first one for the first 10 minutes, but with 5 minutes remaining in the game and down 3 to 1, the Blues pulled their goalkeeper, imposed their will on the Coyotes, and scored two quick goals each on a 6 on 5 advantage. Luckily the Desert Dogs hung on to win that game, but what happens next? Blues Captain Ryan O’Reilly said after last night’s game that the Blues “took it a little lightly” against the Coyotes and should have imposed their dominant physical presence much sooner. He also said that he was glad to be playing the Coyotes again so soon, implying that his team needed to rectify the situation quickly.
Playing six straight games against the same opponent can obviously reveal trends and tendencies on both sides. The Coyotes may be able to gauge what they can and cannot do against the Blues and vice versa. Can six games worth of hard hitting play by St. Louis “tenderize” the Yotes into submission? Can the quick skating and pace of the more agile Coyotes attackers neutralize the Blues’ preference for physical hockey?
Big unknowns are injuries and penalties. Minus key players, teams have to adjust their rosters and their lines. If either team has too many penalty minutes imposed, their goal scorers are often sitting on the bench awaiting the penalty kill.
Most interesting to watch will be the cat and mouse adjustments that coaches will make when things go sideways. What will the Coyotes do if things get too physical for them? Who will cower? Who will step up when the need arises and lead the pack? We’ve already seen some quality, hard hitting hockey from the newest members of the Yotes roster, and nothing endears players to their loyal fans more than hustle and sticking up for their teammates.
Finally, what cannot be immediately measured in a six-game series is the experience and maturity gained from wholly engaging in these gladiator-like contests. But we can sure as hell enjoy them. Let’s go Coyotes!