Tanabe's absence has major effect on Coyotes - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Tanabe's absence has major effect on Coyotes

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Posted: Tuesday, February 3, 2004 10:43 pm | Updated: 5:57 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

How much do the Coyotes miss defenseman David Tanabe?

The answer is shrouded somewhere in the club's 2-4-1 record without Tanabe, who is out the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

While the question elicits the requisite bravado from the Coyotes' players and coaching staff — “injuries are part of the game" and “other guys have to step up" — the truth is, Phoenix is not the same without its fleet, young quarterback.

Like the man who now coaches the Coyotes' special teams, Paul Coffey, Tanabe had the ability to change games with his speed and puck handling.

“He can take a couple strides and the puck is out of your end," goalie Sean Burke said. “That makes a big difference."

It's no coincidence that the breakout is an area where the Coyotes are now struggling.

In posting a 1-3-1 record to date on this six-game homestand, Phoenix has sabotaged itself, again and again, with turnovers in and around its end.

Coach Bob Francis said the blame for those turnovers should not fall on the defense alone.

“It's a five-man unit," he said. “It starts without the puck. It starts with getting in people's way, getting in skating lanes. It starts in the neutral zone where our forwards don't allow the opponent to get by them. That's going to bring your defensemen more time to move the puck.

“I don't care who you are," Francis added. “If you're going back for a puck and your face is going to end up against the glass as soon as you touch it, it's not going to be easy to move the puck."

No argument there.

But that was the beauty of Tanabe. He didn't need as much time to deliver the puck from danger. “Special players are special because of their abilities," said assistant Rick Bowness, who coaches the defensemen. With Tanabe out, the Coyotes have asked blueliners Paul Mara, Radoslav Suchy, Cale Hulse and Ossi Vaananen to fill Tanabe's 22 to 24 minutes a game. But none of those players, with the exception of Mara, possesses the same kind of game as Tanabe.

In attempting to fill Tanabe's skates, Francis acknowledged those players are sometimes working outside their comfort zone and roles. Mara, for example, is now playing the right side instead of the left, forcing him to flip flop his every move.

The changes on defense can also lead the forwards to work outside their normal parameters.

So, while Burke says it is not fair to the other defensemen to say Phoenix is missing Tanabe “a great deal," it would be inaccurate to state the opposite.

“You notice any key guy's absence," Bowness said. “We notice Mike Johnson's absence.

“No one is going to replace David Tanabe. All you can ask from the people using his minutes is to be the best they can be. If they do that, you live with the results."

LOOSE PUCK: An MRI on Philadelphia goaltender Robert Esche's left knee revealed a grade two sprain of the medial collateral ligament. Esche is expected to miss a minimum of three weeks.

Flyers general manager Bob Clarke told reporters Monday that he would only be in the market for a goalie, possibly Sean Burke, if Esche's injury were “long term." Philadelphia's other goalie, Jeff Hackett, has been suffering from vertigo but is expected back after the All-Star break.

Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett said Tuesday that he has had no conversations with Clarke. Among the Philadelphia players the Coyotes may be interested in are prospects Mike Richards, Patrick Sharp and Jeff Carter, all forwards.

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