The Arizona Coyotes started last season 14-4-4 in their opening 22 games. They were an even more impressive 9-0-2 in games played in the home confines of the arena then known as Jobing.com. On Saturday, November 23 they prepared to play their 23rd game of the season, a home tilt against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Coyotes entered play on that day with 32 points, putting them in third place in the Pacific Division, but more importantly, they were only three points behind the Western Conference leading visitors from Anaheim. Phoenix was riding a bit of a hot streak, playing 7-1-2 hockey in their previous 10 games, the one regulation loss coming to these same Ducks in Anaheim on November 6. The Ducks were scuffling, losers of five of their previous six games. All signs pointed toward the Coyotes winning this game and continuing on their upward trajectory.
The only problem with this plan was that you actually have to play the games on the ice. The Coyotes came out a house of fire, outshooting the Ducks 15-8 in the opening period and drawing three penalties. Unfortunately, the Coyotes' power play let them down as they could not find an answer to the goaltending of Jonas Hiller. The Ducks would take advantage of the Coyotes largest Achilles heel on the season, the penalty kill. After Mike Ribeiro took a hooking penalty, Dustin Penner found himself all alone in the slot in front of the Coyotes net. Cam Fowler found him and as all four Coyotes defenders scrambled toward him, Pancakes buried one high past Mike Smith's stick.
Phoenix would get an equalizer early in the second frame. David Moss forced an offensive zone turnover, Derek Morris took a shot from the right point and Ribeiro would bat the puck out of midair past Hiller to draw the home team even. The good news ended there as the Ducks would break through less than a minute later. A bad turnover in the offensive zone by the Coyotes and an ill advised pinch by all world defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson led to a two on one back toward Smith. With Ryan Getzlaf on his left, Dustin Penner would wait and rip a shot right through Smitty's five hole with some extra syrup on it.
Two minutes after that, sloppy Coyote defense would rear its ugly head as they failed to take advantage of an easy opportunity to clear their zone and Corey Perry danced around multiple players in Sedona Red before roofing one over Smitty's glove. More bad Coyotes defense would lead to an easy power play tally for Sami Vatanen and the Ducks would lead 4-1 after two periods. Shane Doan added a meaningless third period marker to make the final score 4-2 Ducks.
The Coyotes outshot Anaheim 44-27 in the game, but the foreshadowing of what would unravel the Coyotes all the rest of the season was palpable in this game. Sloppy defense, lazy penalties and a lackluster penalty kill overwhelmed a fairly effective offensive performance from Phoenix.
Phoenix didn't lose at home in regulation until game number 23, leaving only, guess who?, Anaheim as the last team in the NHL without a home loss.
Following this game, the Coyotes would go 23-26-9 the rest of the way and followed this game by going 4-5-1 in the next 10. After starting 9-0-2 at home, the Coyotes went 13-13-3 the rest of the way after this tilt. While it is impossible to tell exactly what the turning point in an individual season is*, losing the first regulation game at home encapsulated everything that was wrong with the 2013-14 Phoenix Coyotes.
*author's note: Who are we kidding, the turning point for the Coyotes season was Shane Doan's illness. No doubt they missed the Captain for that month.