Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/16/11
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you? Remember the Coyotes' new advertising campaign? Hockey the Hard Way. Phoenix gave away a pair of leads to the struggling Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. Their special teams floundered as they have all month and the Coyotes battled some interesting officiating that disallowed what looked like a good goal by Martin Hanzal late in the second period. "We fought hard for that second goal," coach Dave Tippett cracked. "We got it twice." Better yet, captain Shane Doan came to the rescue with a third goal from the slot with 8:15 left in regulation and the Coyotes avoided the first four-game streak in Tippett's tenure with a 4-2 win at Jobing.com Arena. "The way things have been going, it's been going the other way on us," Doan said. "Tonight, we found a way to make sure we got that win." When the month of December dawned, the Coyotes knew they were facing a grueling stretch -- one that would test the resiliency of a team that has redefined that term. But a number of factors -- some unexpected, some unavoidable -- have conspired to produce this 3-5 start to the final month of the calendar year. The schedule: Phoenix plays a total of 16 games in December, including three sets of back-to-back games in a 17-day span, and four overall. Ten of those games are on the road, five of them are against current division leaders (Blackhawks, Wild twice, Panthers, Bruins) and when the month began, 10 of them were against teams with more points than Phoenix. You won't find a more brutal stretch on any team's calendar this season. Mike Smith's first slump: Ilya Bryzgalov's replacement was outstanding through the season's first two months, ranking among the league's leaders in save percentage and goals against average while blossoming into the player Tippett believed he could be. But in seven December games, he has allowed 22 goals on 162 shots and has been pulled twice (Philadelphia, Detroit). That doesn't mean Smith has been exposed. It just means he's in a slump. It happens. "He had a couple down games," Tippett said. "Just like any other player, you lose a little bit of confidence." The power play: Let's be blunt. It's been awful all season, but not 29th-in-a-30-team-league awful. And when everything else is going bad, the power play's struggles are accentuated. The Coyotes have converted just two of 23 opportunities with the man-advantage this month. Penalty killing: This came out of nowhere. The Coyotes were one of the league's elite penalty-killing units, at one point rising as high as third in the league. They now sit 20th after allowing 11 goals on their opponents' last 28 chances. Rostislav Klesla's injury: The Coyotes couldn't afford another significant injury to their blue line with Michal Rozsival on the shelf with persistent concussion symptoms, but that's what happened when Klesla went down with a lower body injury that has sidelined him the past six games. Klesla earned praise from coach Dave Tippett for strong two-way play and was fourth on the team in ice time (19:27) at the time of his injury. With Rozsival still working his way back, Klesla's loss was a big blow to what is still a young blue line. So where does this leave the Coyotes? They're currently, ninth in the Western Conference standings, one point out of the playoffs. That's not where they'd like to be, but relax. If they can remain in a similar position a couple weeks into January, the schedule turns favorable and they should be able to make a push. December isn't about making a splash, it's about staying afloat.
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