PHOENIX – Between the second and third period of Saturday’s manhandling by the Calgary Flames, a fresh young couple took their marriage vows on the Phoenix Coyotes bench.
That was about it for the commitment level in Phoenix Saturday, as the Coyotes – a team that appeared ready to break from a season-worst slump – dropped another one at home, losing 7-5 to the Calgary Flames.
Two late Phoenix goals prettied up what was a blistering lesson on just how far the Coyotes are from being competitive with an elite, physical team like Calgary. And Wayne Gretzky knew it.
"It’s hard to be a good team," Gretzky said after the game, his voice dripping with the frustration of grooming so many young players at once, a process wrought with setbacks. "It hurts to win. Losing is easy.
"You don’t block shots when you lose. You jump out of the way. Winning is blocking shots. You go to the front of the net. It’s hard," he said. "Right now we’re playing easy hockey. That’s why we’re losing."
Yes, on Valentine’s Day, the Coyotes truly played like a bunch o’ sweethearts. Against the style Calgary played for the final two periods – that classic 30-grit Calgary game – the lack of abrasion in Phoenix’s game was even more evident.
"Calgary plays that tough-nosed game," said an admiring defenceman Ed Jovanovski. "Hard on the walls… You’ve got to be willing to pay the price. They grind. They work hard, with skill. They’re a playoff team. Built that way."
So, let’s take stock: The ‘Yotes are now for sale, being run by the league’s bean counters, in 13th place in the West, and losers of eight of their last nine games.
It’s no surprise that big Todd Bertuzzi led the charge with four assists. If you can define the type of player Bertuzzi is on a good night – tough, hard on the puck, intimidating – you would have a list of all the elements the Coyotes lack, as Gretzky’s young bunch continues a learning process that can at times be painful to watch.
"I was seeing the ice. Guys got open. Pretty easy plays to make," said Bertuzzi, who had plenty of room against the likes of Enver Lisin, Joakim Lindstrom and Mikkel Boedker. “We weren’t too happy near the end, letting those goals in. We’ve got to be a little bit smarter when it comes to that situation, but it’s still two points."
In a stunning occurrence however, Flames captain Jarome Iginla managed to go pointless on a night when his team scored seven goals, as did Dion Phaneuf and Craig Conroy. It marked the 22nd night this season that Iginla has gone pointless, a stat that speaks to how well-rounded Calgary’s offence has become, as they enlarged their lead in the Northwest Division to a comfy 11 points over Vancouver and Edmonton, the next opponent here Monday night.
Calgary goes home now for one game, after pulling five out of a possible six points on this road trip. They are in the storing process, stocking the coffers with enough points to take the pressure off of a seven-game road trip in March necessitated by the Brier’s arrival at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Phoenix, meanwhile, is at the other end of the spectrum, lean on points heading into a stretch run where playing catch-up has proven nearly impossible over the years. Blowing a 3-1 third-period lead to Vancouver on Friday went down like an anti-freeze steak for these mangy Coyotes.
They’re five points below the playoff cut line, and worse yet, five teams removed.
Ow, ow, owwww! This hurts.