Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/8/13
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Coyotes reached the midpoint of the 2013 season in a place they didnt expect to be: outside looking in on the playoff race, with the four teams immediately ahead of them all having a game or two in hand. The culprits in this disappointing 11-10-3 start are easy to spot. Goalie Mike Smith hasnt shown more than glimpses of his 2011-12 incarnation, the teams once-trademark defensive zone coverage and puck management have been shoddy, and key injuries to forwards Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and Matthew Lombardi along with defensemen David Schlemko and Derek Morris have robbed the club of depth, skill and continuity. It is tempting, maybe even warranted, to say the Coyotes have not established an identity 24 games into this lockout-shortened season. If were going to be successful in the second half, we have to recognize who we are, coach Dave Tippett said. Right now, were giving up too many chances, and right through our lineup that goes from the goaltender on out we dont have anybody that we would say, 'OK, this guys at the top of his game.'" But that statement relies on the premise that this club can regain the form it showed in a run to the Western Conference final last year. What if the clubs 2013 identity is exactly what weve seen thus far -- a maddening penchant for inconsistency, defensive lapses and mental breaks due to a dearth of practice time and a dearth of rest in this condensed schedule? Its a thought nobody is willing to entertain yet. The identity of our team hasnt changed, captain Shane Doan said. Weve just got to do it on a more consistent basis. Its not a matter of finding it. You have to do it. Here are our midseason grades: GOALTENDERS This grade falls largely on Smith since backup Jason LaBarbera has only seen action in six games, a mere three of them starts. If you were to go simply by Smiths numbers, this grade would be even worse. His 3.09 goals-against average ranks 39th in the NHL, and his .894 save percentage ranks 34th well off the top-eight numbers he put up last season of 2.21 and .930 with eight shutouts. But Smiths teammates havent done him any favors this season, allowing teams to attack the slot with regularity. Smith gave up one, maybe two rebounds he shouldnt have in Thursdays 6-3 loss to St. Louis. He also didnt steal enough great chances from the Blues, but the defensive zone coverage hung him out to dry on at least two goals, and that has been happening too often. On the flip side, Smith doesnt appear to be tracking the puck as well as last year, his rebound management hasnt been as solid and his confidence doesnt appear as high, a problem that infects the team in front of him. Grade: C- DEFENSEMEN When the Coyotes shed aging veteran Adrian Aucoin and Michal Rozsival while adding Zbynek Michaek in the offseason, most analysts assumed they had improved the blue line to the point where it was one of the best corps in the NHL. From a production standpoint, the group is doing well. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is tied for the team-lead with 16 points, Keith Yandle is second with 14 points and 11 of the Coyotes 70 goals have come from defensemen. Its the other end the one you most associate with their job description thats been the problem. Phoenix isnt defending well in its own zone (the forwards play a major role in this as well) and has been careless with the puck. The result has been a stunning 2.88 goals allowed per game, which ranks 20th in the 30-team NHL. Yandle has had well-chronicled struggles in his own end, but hes far from alone. Injuries to Derek Morris, David Schlemko and the highly underrated Rusty Klesla forced Tippett to play youngsters Michael Stone, Chris Summers and David Rundblad more than he wanted, and all three showed signs of youth. Even Ekman-Larsson (minus-4) and Michalek (minus-3) were victimized Thursday. Maybe health will lead to better consistency. It had better, because this was supposed to be a strength. Grade: C- FORWARDS The good news is that the Coyotes are scoring 2.79 goals per game an increase of .38 goals over last season -- despite the loss of Ray Whitney in free agency. The bad news is the Coyotes arent taking care of the puck as well and arent adhering to their defensive zone assignments. Mikkel Boedker (four goals, team-high 16 points) has taken a step forward and may be the clubs most consistent forward this season. Boyd Gordon and Antoine Vermette have been terrific on faceoffs, and before Thursday, center Kyle Chipchura had been a revelation, but Steve Sullivan hasnt been able to match Whitneys production from a year ago, Doan is off last seasons production and Hanzal, Vrbata and Lombardi, the teams biggest offseason forward acquisition, havent played enough games due to injuries to have a consistent impact. If the Coyotes can get healthy over the next couple weeks, this unit could take a big step up in play. But it has to happen at both ends of the ice for the Coyotes to be successful. Grade: C SPECIAL TEAMS Despite the absence of some key performers due to injury, the Coyotes penalty-killing unit still ranks ninth in the NHL, killing off 83.8 percent of opponents chances. Despite frequent criticism, the Coyotes power play has been OK, clicking at a 16.3 percent clip to rank in the middle of the NHL pack (17th) -- and at a far better rate than last seasons anemic 13.6 percent clip, which ranked second to last. It would be nice to get a little more production, but the simple truth is the Coyotes dont have the skilled offensive personnel to do that on a consistent basis. In sports parlance, it is what it is. Grade: B- COACHES Tippett downplayed the role that minimal practice time has had on his club, but think about it for a minute. One of this clubs greatest strengths is the fact that it has a master tactician for a coach, a guy who prides himself on examining every pore of the game for potential clogs. Hell never use it as a public excuse, but it has to be maddening for Tippett to watch his team stray away from its finely tuned defensive system and not be able to get them on the ice, so he and his assistants -- Jim Playfair, John Anderson and Dave King -- can correct it. He is right when he notes the importance of rest during this grueling, lockout-condensed schedule. They cant do what you want them to do if theyre not rested, he said. But if the Coyotes do disappoint this season, this may go down as one of the greatest underlying reasons. It will also bear watching how the team manages its goalies the rest of the year. Tippett said Thursday that he talks with goalie Sean Burke every day about the mental and physical state of his goalies, adding that the games are so important in this lockout-shortened season that they felt it best to ride Smith as much as possible. But Smith hinted recently that playing so often has been mentally taxing. Will LaBarberas recent game in Anaheim give the staff enough confidence to spell Smith on more occasions? Grade: B- MANAGEMENT GM Don Maloney added some helpful pieces this season in Michalek, Lombardi and forwards David Moss and Nick Johnson. But health hasnt allowed Lombardi to establish himself yet, Maloney is still operating on a shoestring budget that prevents bigger moves and the trade deadline (April 3) has yet to arrive, so the jury is still out. Grade: Incomplete Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
One Gotta Go: NFL Legends (and Jose Canseco!) Have No Love For Captain America
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Brandon Jennings takes swipe at Reggie Miller's career

Report: Kaepernick facing ‘uphill battle’ to make roster

Djokovic says ‘private issues’ cost him chance at grand slam

Colin Kaepernick on national anthem: 'I'll continue to sit'

Stephen Jones: Cowboys 'look forward' to starting Prescott

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Stanton has 'slim chance' of returning for final week?

Kubiak hinting that Siemian is favorite for Broncos' QB job?

John Harbaugh: NFL needs to make changes to preseason

Romo expected to miss 6-10 weeks with broken bone in back

Kaepernick explains why he is protesting national anthem

Dwyane Wade’s cousin shot and killed in Chicago

A sports history of not standing up for the national anthem

Heading into the homestretch: 2016 ROY favorites

Premier League notebook: The love affair at Man U

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

Marshall’s first impression of Fitzpatrick: ‘He was terrible’

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Six worst quarterback situations in the NFL

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

A sports history of not standing up for the national anthem

Premier League notebook: The love affair at Man U

Heading into the homestretch: 2016 ROY favorites

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

The 20 best boxing movies of all time

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker