The propensity of the Phoenix Coyotes towards post scrum shenanigans and their nearly comprehensive habituation as between-whistle nuisances is not a sudden phenomenon. We have seen this team several times this season. We have watched fists and elbows fly, individuals get lost in dog‐piles and penalty whistles overused.
We have not seen the level of thuggery the Desert Dogs put on display in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. In a game where their aim was to neutralize our commandeering of home ice advantage, the Coyotes unraveled faster than the thread on hand-me-down clothing. I suspect the direct reason for this was due to their powerplay’s impotence, which was barely able to muster a shot, let alone cash in for a goal. If our PP is a boob, theirs is just a wrinkled areola.
However, there is a deeper cause for a team in the Conference Finals to so quickly abandon its pursuit of the Cup in favor of a quest for blood; it is bred into its identity. The Coyotes, like the Canucks before them are a team of cat callers and dog kickers. While the Kings have assumed the identity of its leaders – the work ethic of Dustin Brown and the mental fortitude of Jonathan Quick – the Coyotes have similarly derived their purpose from Shane Doan, their spiritual leader and Mike Smith, their weight bearer.
Doan has long been heralded as a quality hockey player, known for his blend of skill and hard-nosed play. His willingness to lay his body on the line for his team has earned him a reputation for being all that is right with hockey. As much as these qualities are true of Shane, who more closely resembles his team’s namesake than any iteration of the logo on his jersey has, they are neglectful of his aptitude for goonery. He is a violent player and while we applaud our own blow-bestowing Captain, Doan has replaced his previous penchant for clean hits meant to separate men from pucks with dirty hits meant to separate heads from shoulders and shoulders from sockets.
Meanwhile, Mike Smith, who is the Coyotes leader in terms of the player who consistently wins them games, has displayed a temper these playoffs that does his team no good. While perhaps this is in some way justified as a measure of self defense derived from Andrew Shaw delivering a highly illegal check on Smith in the first round, the fact remains that a man who the Coyotes look to for strength in times of need is failing his fellow players by setting an example of indignation. I suppose the fans assumed the same behavior for a similar reason. Another level of the building the Coyotes have constructed - a building that is collapsing.
Dave Tippett ought to be able to get his team in line. The man is as good of a coach as there is in the NHL. It would appear that he has, to some degree, lost his room. How much will be known by the Coyotes’ showing in game 3 on Thursday. However it is not a mar on his coaching acumen when it is the personalities of his team’s top two players that is the cause of this malfunction.
What can a coach do when the player the team looks to for guidance displays a message of unnecessary intent to injure? Before boarding Trevor Lewis, Doan had gotten away with a similar board on Kyle Clifford. Last game we saw Doan show of his MMA skills against Mike Richards off a draw. After going over a decade without suspension, Doan has received at least two that I can find in recent years, along with fines for head hunting and violent boarding. Mike Smith has allowed frustration to preclude composure. His diving, slashing and frequent grabbing at heads does not inspire confidence, nor intensity, but merely a lesser form of insanity.
The Coyotes are their leaders. Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal happily followed suit last night. Instead of rallying their troops with a message of resilience and strength, a call to clandestine vengeance has been trumpeted. Vengeance can be a strong motivator, but not when the object of one’s anger is mostly the result of one’s own shortcomings. Tired clichés of good and evil adorn our history and our fairy tales, but for good reason. The providence of the just cause resonates as true because it often overshadows the forces of spite and malignancy. Purity of intention brings focus. Corruption of purpose sows despair.
And so the Coyotes now despair. I relish the Kings’ victory, their domination on the ice. However, I expected a better series than this. I mistakenly thought we would be seeing serious hockey, two teams bearing down in the final stages of the season. To that end I am disappointed and embarrassed. Disappointed that Tippett, a man I respect a great deal, is powerless against the influence of his own players. I am embarrassed that such base degenerates govern one of the NHL’s final four teams. Had I thought more on who it was that led this Coyotes team before the series, I would not be as I also am, surprised.