COMMENTARY: The Phoenix Coyotes, seething after Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown flattened Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival late in the overtime period, lost their composure, and, as a result, the game, and the series. They embarrassed themselves, and their organization, after the game, with perhaps the most ridiculous excuses one could possibly imagine for losing a playoff series.
LOS ANGELES — After watching and listening to the reactions of some of the Phoenix Coyotes after they lost in Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference Finals, a 4-3 overtime defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings, one would get the idea that the entire world, outside of the Phoenix metropolitan area, was against them.
That was just one of the common refrains emanating from the Coyotes dressing room after the game—they were livid about the officiating, especially after Kings right wing Dustin Brown laid out Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival at the Phoenix blue line late in the overtime period.
On the play, Brown was skating across the blue line, and had Rozsival lined up for a hit. A moment after the whistle blew for an offsides call, Brown nailed Rozsival, his shoulder slamming into his chest, while his left leg struck Rozsival’s left leg.
No penalty was called on the play, and Rozsival had to be helped off the ice, and into the dressing room, sending the Coyotes into such a fit of rage, that when play resumed, they had totally lost their composure. As a result, they were sloppy in their own zone on the next shift, as they all focused too much on the puck. That allowed Kings left wing Dustin Penner to move into the slot, totally unchecked, and he banged in a rebound at the 17:42 mark of the overtime period to win the game, and the series, for the Kings.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith was beside himself.
“When Brown gets away with something like that after the whistle, knee-on-knee, that’s a dangerous play,” he said. “If [Coyotes forward] Raffi Torres gets 25 games for his hit [on Chicago forward Marian Hossa], this guy should be done forever.”
Regardless of whether or not Brown deserved a penalty, the game is played between the whistles, and once it resumed, the Coyotes had to be ready to play.
They were not.
“It wasn’t the ending we would’ve wanted, obviously, with the situation with Rozsival getting hurt, hurting his knee, and them scoring on the next shift,” said Coyotes winger Ray Whitney. “We were up in arms a little bit. We were a little flustered by that. Definitely a disappointing way to end it.”
“We have to take some blame for [giving up the goal] too, [for] not [settling] down and just keep playing,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan. “It’s something where we could have just settled down and continued to play.”
Indeed, if the Coyotes had maintained their poise and focus on the task at hand, instead of focusing on what they thought should have been a penalty on Brown, they might be preparing for a Game 6 in this series instead of an earlier-than-desired summer vacation.
But those comments were just the tip of the iceberg, as the Coyotes went off the deep end, blaming the officials for their loss in the game, the series, and, seemingly, for everything else under the hot Arizona sun.
“It’s disappointing, for a season to end like that,” said Smith. “It’s disappointing that we not only got beaten by them, but by the officials, too.”
“It’s not just this game, it’s all season long,” added Smith. “It seems like they did everything they could to [prevent us from getting] to this position. I’m not taking anything away from the Kings. They deserve to be here. They play hard, they’re a tough opponent. But when we battle as hard as we do to get to this point—it seems like everyone was against us.”
The players then pointed their fingers at the league and its officials, claiming that there was a conspiracy against them.
“It’s a crime scene, it’s unfortunate,” said Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle. “For us, especially, they know we don’t have an owner [the team is being operated by the league on a temporary basis], we don’t have anyone to back us up. I don’t know if it’s an easy way for [the officials] to not make calls, and not show up.”
“I know they wear the same color jerseys as them, as the Kings,” he added. “But they didn’t have to play for them tonight. [It’s] extremely frustrating. It’s something where you work for a whole season, a whole career, and for some guys, you might not get back to this. For it to be taken by some guys who aren’t playing, it’s tough.”
“Today was unfortunate, the bad officiating,” said Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris. “There’s no accountability with them, that’s the only problem. They don’t have anybody to answer to. They say that they do, but they don’t.”
Doan wasn’t far behind.
“I look back on the last two games and I still haven’t found where I got my three penalties,” he lamented. “I have absolutely no idea were they came from or what they were calling.”
For his part, Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett was not going to get caught up in any of that.
“[Complaining about the officiating is] not going to do any good right now,” said Tippett. “I think you guys should just write what you saw. If you write what you saw, you’ll see why people get frustrated.”
“You know, the players, I mean, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into this,” added Tippett. “There’s a lot of emotion in the game. It is what it is.”
After all that, the Coyotes contradicted themselves, giving credit to the Kings.
“It feels awful, and you don’t want to be a part of it,” said Doan. “You have to give credit to LA. They played a great series. They are playing really well right now and have a bunch of guys playing well. It’s hard because you don’t want to take anything away from LA because they played unbelievably and give them all the credit.”
“You can’t credit them enough,” said Yandle. “They played awesome. Their goaltender was amazing. They’ve got a lot of great forwards, great defensemen.”
Indeed, after all the whining about the officiating, and the off-the-deep-end conspiracy theories, the truth finally came from the mouths of the Coyotes.
“This was definitely our best all-around game, from the offensive side,” Whitney noted. “We showed, the last two games, what kind of team we are. Unfortunately, we didn’t start the series the way we would’ve liked. In the end, that’s what cost us. That’s what’s disappointing. We didn’t play, at the start of the series, the way we played at the end. We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do in the first three games.”
“We played better that last two, even the last two-and-a-half [games],” added Whitney. “We were just a little too late. Our readiness to compete, at the level they were playing at, just wasn’t there for a big part of the series.”
“They played a real good series,” said Morris. “They got an early lead on us, 3-0, and we were scraping to get back. We played our best, the last two games.”
“I thought we played great,” said Yandle. “The last two games, we showed what we had. The first three games, we didn’t play as good as we had.”
To be sure, if the Coyotes had played, in Games 1 and 2, the way they played in the last two games, this series would likely still be undecided.
“I thought we had a lot of players that were a little bit awestruck in Game 1,” said Tippett. “Young players, we talked about the bar getting raised, and you’re going to have to be better. In Game 1, I think we stood around and watched the game a lot. Game 2, the first half of the game, I thought we played very well, got ourselves in it, got ourselves in penalty trouble. Really, for the rest of the series after that, it was very tight.”
“I think part of it you got to give them credit for what they’re doing,” added Tippett. “They’re playing a pretty complete game there those first few games. We went in, played a strong Game 4. Smith gave us a heck of a game. Doan gave us a heck of a game, and I thought it was a very competitive game tonight.”
“LA played well. Early in the series they played very well. Ultimately, the last two games, I thought were our best games, but they were too late. LA beat us. That’s what should be remembered, not the refereeing.”
Although Tippett remained above the fray after the game, some of his players, all part of the Coyotes’ leadership group, failed miserably, led by Doan, their captain.
Do they honestly believe the league and its officials are out to get them, and that they were in bed with the Kings? If they do, then there are some questions the Coyotes should answer:
How do they explain the fact that Morris got away with an obvious knee-on-knee hit on Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi earlier in the series, that was much more blatant than Brown’s hit on Rozsival, since Brown first made contact with his shoulder to Rozsival’s chest? Also, if the argument is that the hit was late, it came just as the whistle was blown for an offsides call. Brown did not appear to have enough time to pull up.
If Smith is going to complain about Brown, comparing the hit to Torres’ vicious hit on Hossa, claiming that it was far more severe than Torres’ hit, then how does he explain his vicious slash to the back of Brown’s knee earlier in the series? The only reason he did not receive supplementary discipline for that is because he is the Coyotes’ starting netminder, and the league is not going to suspend a starting goalie during the playoffs unless he maims someone. Add to that Smith’s swing-and-a-miss slash attempt on Kings center Mike Richards immediately following Penner’s game-winner—there was no penalty called—Smith really isn’t one who should be criticizing officials.
How does Doan explain not getting a penalty when he cross checked Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell in the face during a pile-up in front of the Kings’ net, earlier in the series?
How does Coyotes center Martin Hanzal explain snapping his head back, trying to sell a high-sticking call during Game 5, when it was clear that the stick did not make contact with his face?
To be fair, all of the Coyotes’ complaints were made right after the game, while players were just barely cooling off from the heat of the battle, and it is quite likely that more reasoned, tempered comments will be forthcoming. But really…claiming that the referees were against them, not only in this game, but all season long, and that there was a conspiracy against them, with a big reason for that being that they had no owner?
In the 15 years I have been covering the Kings and the NHL professionally, and in the 39 years I have been following them, I have never heard such outlandish, embarrassing excuses for losing in the post-season.
Indeed, Morris talked about the lack of accountability on the part of the officials. Seems to me he should be far more worried about his own team and their apparent accountability issues—blaming everyone but yourselves is not the way your team is going to improve and move forward. That is not the way it’s done in the NHL.
The sad thing is that they obviously know the real reasons that they lost the game, and the series. After all, they spelled it out in great detail—they lost their composure after Brown’s hit on Rozsival. If they had kept their heads, there is a very, very good chance that they would be preparing for a sixth game here in Los Angeles on May 24. They also admitted that they played poorly in Games 1-3, going down in the series, 3-0, and that despite putting in good efforts in Games 4-5, it was too little, too late.
It is extremely disappointing to see a team fail to step up and accept responsibility, especially when they clearly know the real reasons for their failure. Even worse, that failure now extends to their character, not just their performance on the ice.
Coyotes general manager Don Maloney should be horribly embarrassed, deeply concerned, and maybe even angry, because of the immature reactions by some of his players. These comments were absolutely disgraceful, and they certainly reflect poorly on the organization as a whole.
Stick tap to Arctic Ice Hockey for mentioning this story.
2012 Western Conference Final, Los Angeles Kings vs. Phoenix Coyotes, Game 5 Highlights, May 22, 2012
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