Coyotes are down but dangerous, Babcock says

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Glendale, Arizona – The Coyotes have had the sort of season that makes a team want to start all over, again.

The Red Wings are performing better than most expected – except for some of the players themselves. And they are coming off a sizeable win against the Avalanche, which was evidence of their considerable fortitude.

Kind of makes one wonder about the potential for bit of a surprise today.

"Now, this game tonight is a trap game, in lots of ways. Just look at their record," Mike Babcock said Saturday. "But they work. Dave Tippett coaches them, and they know how to play.

"So, we're in a situation here tonight where we've got to be dialed in and ready to go. It's an important two points for us."

Tippett's teams always play in a disciplined defensive style, and he emphasizes a strong north-south game of simplicity.

What the Red Wings hope works is what has panned out in recent games: Other than the singular exception of the Lightning, 10 days ago, they are mostly back working their schemes and structures, thoroughly.

"There was a while there where we were cheating the system," Babcock said. "And it doesn't work. You have to straighten those things out, over time, and get things right.

"What I have liked about what we've done here of late is that we're back to the details of our game."

Of concern is that Coyotes goalie Mike Smith should he get the nod.

Experiencing a season perhaps even worse than his team, with a 9-21 record, .893 save percentage and 3.33 goals-against average, Smith would seem to stimulate the salivary glands of any shooter.

But he was a major problem for the Red Wings last season and the thought is, at some point, he will turn it around.

Last season, the Coyotes won both games against the Wings, and Smith stopped nearly 94 percent of the shots and limited the Wings to two goals per start.

"He's a big body," Babcock said. "He hasn't had the kind of year that he wants.

"He's a pro. He'll want to bounce back. He's really good with the puck."

And the Coyotes had two offensively-minded defenseman that are among the best in the NHL.

"(Oliver) Eckman-Larsson and (Keith) Yandle are very active from the back," Babcock said.

The Coyotes are "going to check like crazy," he said. "It's going to be a hard game, just like every night."

It would be a bit disconcerting for the Red Wings to lose, especially so in front of a host of fathers and mentors. This is the last game of the annual road trip with them, and it certainly invigorates the month of February, often the doldrums of the six-month NHL season.

When the players, coaches, dads and others significant in the lives and development of each of the players emerged from the dressing room in the bowels of the Gila River Arena today, to take the ice for a big group photograph, the sheer joy of the affair was on display.

Babcock, in particular, seems to exult in the situation. He can be heard joking with the visitors about the players, whom fathers and mentors guided long before they ever met their current coach.

"I said to the guys today, it's a time of the year you really look forward to," he said. "It's a way to share your life with your dad. It's a way to give thanks to your parents for what they've done for you."

Babcock spoke of his relationship with his father; he described it as a friendship, too.

"So, when these guys are here and I stand back and watch them, and the bond and respect they have for their sons and their dad, it's a special, special thing," Babcock said.

Red Wings at Coyotes

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona

TV / radio: FSD / 97.1-FM and 1270-AM