Coyotes problem mainly with forwards

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

DETROIT -- "The good thing," Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said, "is that we can only go up from here."

Although Gretzky's pronouncements usually are hockey's version of papal infallibility, he's wrong about this one.

The Coyotes definitely can go further down. And if they lose to their next two opponents on this trip, the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, they will.

Those were the only two teams trailing the Coyotes in the Western Conference standings at the time Gretzky made his pronouncement, moments after his Coyotes got dismembered 9-2 by the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

That loss that pushed the Coyotes' record on this trip to 0-2 and their goals for/against disadvantage to 14-3.

When a team allows 14 goals in two games, it would seem to make sense to point fingers at the defence. But in the 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, it was primarily the forwards who were at fault.

They exhibited a lackadaisical approach to defence and took a string of stupid penalties.

As a result, Gretzky called a team meeting on Tuesday. He told this players that they should be ashamed when the team's two best performers were a guy who had been out for two years (Owen Nolan) and a 39-year-old (Jeremy Roenick).

Afterward, Roenick went to Gretzky and said, "I'm only 36."

"I wasn't talking about you," Gretzky said with a straight face.

Roenick was taken aback for a moment, then the two laughed and Gretzky apologized for getting Roenick's age wrong.

The Coyotes are not yet so far down that they've become depresses and downhearted. But the way they're playing, those days aren't far away, especially if they keep ignoring the coach.

The other part of Gretzky's message was that this is a team that will have to work hard for whatever it might achieve and therefore cannot afford the luxury of needless penalties.

But the Red Wings got rolling on Wednesday with a power-play goal after Nick Boynton, taking the easy approach rather than skating hard, got sent off for tripping.

Later, with the game still within reach at 3-1, Mike Comrie took a needless hooking penalty. Eleven seconds later, the score was 4-1.

Then, when the Coyotes got a power play of their own, it lasted 21 seconds before Ed Jovanovski decided to hold Kirk Maltby's stick while the play was moving up the ice.

Shortly thereafter, the floodgates opened. Granted, it was one of those nights when freaky goals were going in for the opposition. But even so, there was no doubt which was the better team -- by far.

The Coyotes goaltending wasn't great on this occasion, but that doesn't figure to be a long-term problem. And the defence can be respectable once it gets focused.

At the moment, some of the defencemen, especially Jovanovski, are trying to do too much, and Monday's loss of Keith Ballard with a broken hand would be a serious blow to any team, even a strong one.

But up front, the Coyotes are doing next to nothing. They had expected a great year from Ladislav Nagy, but if you had to try to think of a word to sum up his season thus far, "atrocious" would be a good place to start. Nolan will need a while to get going, Shane Doan isn't getting much support and Comrie is erratic.

For Gretzky, the dilemma is not easily solved. He could unload on his team, but he fears that such a reaction might do more harm than good. After all, this is not an overconfident squad at the moment.

But he did insist that there will be no days off in the immediate future. "We need to practise," he said.

There's no arguing with him on that one.


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