The Coyotes knew there would be rocky roads ahead when they decided to go young for the rest of the season, but Saturday’s game resembled a locomotive barreling down a jagged slope into an abandoned rock quarry.
Playing as much defense as one would expect to see at a Suns game, Phoenix fell behind 4-0 for the second straight game before dropping its fifth straight decision, 7-5 to the Chicago Blackhawks at Jobing.com Arena.
“Every guy was working as hard as he can. I just think we beat ourselves tonight,” said coach Wayne Gretzky, whose team had 15 giveaways. “That’s what’s frustrating about this game.”
Phoenix pulled to within 4-2 with just over five minutes remaining in the first period and 5-3 with under a minute remaining in the first, but couldn’t get any closer.
“This game, we didn’t play well since the beginning,” said defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who left the game with just over five minutes left after taking a puck off the side of his right knee. “We didn’t deserve to win. The bottom line, we had some individual mistakes, myself included. … They scored on every chance they had, and we just didn’t have it.”
Michalek said he suffered just a bone bruise and shouldn’t miss any time.
The game took an ugly turn early in the third period when Blackhawks enforcer David Koci, making his NHL debut, plowed his shoulder into the face of forward Bill Thomas, who landed hard on the ice and was helped off with a bloody nose.
Koci ended up fighting defenseman Nick Boynton seconds later and was assessed a five-minute major for charging, five for fighting and two game misconducts — one for his third fight and the other for intent to injure. He compiled 42 penalty minutes total while registering just 2:31 of ice time.
Gretzky said Thomas was dazed but should be OK. His status for Monday’s game is unknown.
Meanwhile, Jeff Hamilton led Chicago’s charge with three goals and five points.
Derek Morris had three assists for Phoenix and Daniel Carcillo notched his first career goal.
The game got off to a highly entertaining start as the tally after the first period was 32 shots, eight goals and three fights — two between Koci and Josh Gratton.
In a list recently published by The Hockey News, four Phoenix prospects were ranked among the top 50 in the NHL. Center Peter Mueller, a first-round pick in 2006, topped the list of future Coyotes at No. 7, followed by center Martin Hanzal (No. 30), center Blake Wheeler (No. 35) and defenseman Keith Yandle (No. 50). No other franchise had as many players on the list, which was a blend of rankings provided by 22 NHL scouts.
Mueller, second in the Western Hockey League in assists (57) and tied for seventh in points (78); Hanzal, fifth in the WHL in assists (52) and 10th in points (75); and Yandle, an AHL All-Star this season with San Antonio, all have a good shot at making the Coyotes next season.
Wheeler is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota and is expected to return for his junior year.
Forward Owen Nolan (shoulder) returned to the lineup a game earlier than expected. … Forwards Jeremy Roenick and Yanick Lehoux and defenseman Travis Roche were the scratches.