DETROIT - The final score wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the last time the Coyotes visited Joe Louis Arena, but Wednesday’s outcome was more costly.
Phoenix, desperate for points in an attempt to climb in the standings, put on a much better showing than in its 9-2 dismantling here in October but still ended up on the short end, losing 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Coyotes remain 10 points behind Minnesota for the eighth playoff spot with 27 games remaining and only seven until the trade deadline when they must decide if they are buyers or sellers.
The turning point came late in the third period when Phoenix, down 3-2, went on a power play with 5:57 remaining but failed to tie the game.
“Big games like this, we’ve got to score those goals,” Ladislav Nagy said. “It’s a big loss for us. Right now, we’ve got to win every game … and just keep hoping.”
Phoenix was lucky to be in the game at that point as the Red Wings, who won their 11th straight at home, seemed to have control of the puck all night. Detroit ended up outshooting the Coyotes 48-22. That is the most shots Phoenix has allowed all season.
Only Curtis Joseph’s phenomenal play kept it close.
“We didn’t deserve to be in that game. They outplayed us pretty much the whole game,” said Shane Doan, who along with Owen Nolan provided highlight-quality goals. “We had an incredible goaltender tonight. Whenever you get that type of goaltending, you should expect to win the game because it’s just such an advantage. We let Cuj down tonight.”
Coach Wayne Gretzky said his players failed to give a team effort.
“We didn’t have enough of our upper-echelon players show up,” he said.
Henrik Zetterberg’s shot from the point deflected off a Coyotes player’s skate and past Joseph for the game-winner at 3:22 of the third, and Pavel Datsyuk added an empty netter in the final minutes.
In the seven games since Gretzky said Phoenix would have to earn at least 75 percent of the possible points to make the playoffs, the Coyotes are just 3-4.
When Bill Thomas was called up from San Antonio of the American Hockey League 11 days ago, Gretzky said he hoped to keep the 23-year-old forward up for the rest of the season.
“He’s one of the guys in our organization that I don’t want to be sending back and forth, up and down,” Gretzky said at the time.
All signs, though, point to Thomas returning to San Antonio soon.
The Coyotes were down a forward after Patrick Fischer aggravated his groin injury in Tuesday’s game, but instead of playing Thomas vs. the Red Wings, Gretzky went with seven defensemen, inserting Matt Jones.
It marked the fourth straight game Thomas has been a healthy scratch.
“In the long run, he’s going to be part of our team,” Gretzky said. “but we’re not going to rush him.”
WHERE CUJO RANKS
With his 50th career shutout Tuesday, Curtis Joseph became the 22nd player to reach the milestone.
The always humble Joseph, though, doesn’t regard it as that high of an accomplishment.
“It’s half as many as Terry Sawchuk and the same amount of games,” Joseph said. Sawchuk, whose NHL career spanned from 1950-70, is first all time with 103 shutouts in 971 games.
Joseph, in his 17th season, recorded No. 50 in his 894th game.
Gretzky was observed using smelling salts on the bench during Tuesday’s game in Columbus.
Asked if anything was wrong, the Coyotes coach said he was trying to fight off a head cold but added they are something he uses frequently.
“Probably every game,” he said. “I just did it as a player and do it as a coach. It’s probably more habit than anything.”
Coyotes center Yanic Perreault, who leads the league with a 62.0 faceoff winning percentage, didn’t take any because of a sore shoulder.