Everyone expected the Coyotes to come out and play like there was no tomorrow, to let it all hang out with just 13 games left and the slimmest of playoff chances hinging on this weekend.
Instead, the Coyotes looked like a team that already had plans for mid-April — and none of them included any on-ice activities.
There have been some real stinkers during this disappointing season, but Friday's flatline performance in a 4-0 loss to the slumping Chicago Blackhawks — make that, the previously slumping Blackhawks — emitted an odor that makes all the others pale by comparison.
The numbers say the Coyotes still have a chance to rebound. Their effort before 14,816 disgruntled customers at America West Arena told a different story
“It wasn't a Picasso, that's for sure,'' Phoenix goalie Sean Burke said.
Picasso? This wasn't a velvet knock-off of “Dogs Playing Poker.''
Playing a Chicago team that was 4-19-2 in its last 25 games and wearing large “Beat Me'' signs on the back of their Blackhawk sweaters, the Coyotes came out listless and degenerated from there.
“During the course of the year you're going to come up with some duds, but the timing of it makes you ask the question, ‘Why?' '' Phoenix coach Bob Francis said. “I don't have any explanation.
“We just didn't have it tonight, and I'm not going to make any excuses. I just went over the grades for the individuals on the team, and it's tough to find average grades let alone above average, and in a game of this magnitude, it makes you wonder why.'' The Coyotes were pathetic in every conceivable phase of a hockey contest:
• The crumbling Phoenix penalty kill was beaten three times in a row by the NHL's worst power play (10.8 percent coming into Friday). The Coyotes have now allowed 12 power-play goals in the last five games.
• Meanwhile, Phoenix's power play was so bad on its seven chances that the fans rightly booed when the Coyotes iced the puck — twice — and passed around the perimeter endlessly, in effect doing Chicago's job for it.
• They were outshot 29-21 and lost 38 of 61 faceoffs. Mike Johnson was stoned on a penalty shot, making things easy on Chicago goalie Jocelyn Thibault by putting the puck in his pads. On the other end, Burke lost a puck at his feet, allowing Kyle Calder to nudge home Chicago's second goal.
“We have to be better in so many areas it's hard to point to one area that was worse than another,'' winger Shane Doan said. “ It all stunk.''
Eighth-place Edmonton lost Thursday. Ninth-place Nashville lost Friday. A win would have pulled the Coyotes back within striking distance — seven points behind the Oilers and within one of the Predators. Instead, they fell to 11th behind Los Angeles and threw another shovel-full of dirt into their burial plot with Anaheim coming in for a 7 p.m. visitation tonight.
“In a big game like this we needed to have a better effort that we did,'' center Daymond Langkow said. “We have to come ready to play, and that starts long before you come to the rink,''
Chicago's Steve Sullivan scored on a pair of pretty goals. beating Burke over the top twice and moving his season total to 23. Calder scored in between when he outbattled Ossi Vaananen in front of the net and capitalized on a Jon Klemm rebound that eluded Burke.