Dogs down in the desert

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Success can be fleeting in the National Hockey League, and it fled Phoenix in a hurry after the all-star break.

The upstart Coyotes used to be right in the thick of the playoff race, five games over .500 and sitting as high as fifth place in late January, now they're struggling to escape a potentially fatal nose dive.

One win in their first nine games after returning from the all-star break has the Coyotes teetering on the edge of a cliff like Wily E. on a bad Roadrunner day.

"We're in a tougher spot than we wanted to be right now," said Phoenix centre Steve Reinprecht. "We went from fifth to 13th in a week and a half. The good thing is you're playing the teams you're battling for playoff spots with. That's all you can ask."

Defenceman Derek Morris, as worried as anybody that a breakthrough season could be breaking down around them, says it's almost like everyone forgot how to play.

"We were pretty good, then we came back off our break and had a tough stretch, couldn't score any goals," he said, adding a young team like the Coyotes - they have 10 guys on their roster 24 or younger - has trouble reversing negative momentum.

"We have a fragile team with young kids and if things don't go well when you're young it kind of snowballs. Us older guys have to do a better job of leading by example to get the young guys going."

Captain Shane Doan, who's only been in the playoffs once in the last seven years, and has never won a round in 13 seasons with the Desert Dogs, was hoping their early season resurgence would finally translate into a playoff spot.

Like, really hoping.

"You want to be in a situation where everybody's getting excited about who you're going to add (at the trade deadline), who you're bringing in instead of the other way," he said, adding they need to turn it around before management starts unloading veterans at the March 3 deadline.

"We don't feel we're in a situation right now where we have to throw in the towel. You're never as bad as you think you are when you're losing and you're never as good as you think you are when you're winning. At the same time, we just have to be better.

"We've had a down couple of weeks and we have to turn it back around."

Head coach Wayne Gretzky says there's only one way to do that.

"We have to start from the basics," he said. "Simplify your game and not have turnovers in the neutral zone, not taking undisciplined penalties that hurt the hockey club, things we were doing really well before the break.

"It's hard work and team commitment that's going to get you out of this. We have to start winning, that's the bottom line, it's not good enough to be close."


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