After scoring two goals in three games and once again losing a tenuous grip on the .500 mark, the reeling Phoenix Coyotes are certainly missing something.
The team needs to score, that's a given But it also needs a spark. An influx of energy. An injection of positive emotion that was all but non-existent in listless losses to San Jose, Atlanta and Dallas. The Coyotes need to get to pucks first. Initiate contact instead of taking retaliatory penalties. Jostle power play and penalty kill units that have lapsed into a coma.
And after meetings between management and the coaching staff (Tuesday) and one-on-one meets with coaches and players (Wednesday), the organization has identified the magic bromide is . . . Fredrik Sjostrom?
Sjostrom isn't the only change fans will see during tonight's Thanksgiving game with the Los Angeles Kings, but it will be the most obvious. After only 22 games as a professional, the 11th overall pick in the 2001 draft was recalled from Springfield (Mass.) of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and will make his NHL debut on left wing alongside Mike Sillinger and Daniel Cleary.
The No. 1 goal-scoring threat in the Phoenix farm system, Sjostrom had 34 goals in junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen last year. But this season, despite playing with Jeff Taffe (10 goals) in Springfield, Sjostrom hasn't scored once in 17 games.
The last thing this team needs is another offensively challenged player. Landon Wilson and Cale Hulse are the only two Coyotes who have scored in a week — and it was the first goals of the season for both of them.
But Sjostrom can have an impact on a game with his speed and skill. He's the closest thing to another Ladislav Nagy in the system. And the Coyotes, tapped out financially and unable to add any offense via trades, are ready to roll the dice.
Welcome to Phoenix, Fast Freddie.
“Yeah, he's a little sensitive about that Cheerio on his score sheet,” said Taffe, who was called up to Phoenix last week. “We've been giving it to him pretty good down there. But if you think he's struggling because he doesn't have any goals, you'd be wrong.
“He's moving the puck well, he's skating, he's getting lots of chances. The pucks just haven't gone for him. He's been unlucky but he's been all over the ice. Once he gets one, he's going to explode.''
And if ever the Coyotes needed some dynamite, it's now. Mike Johnson and Jan Hrdina are hurt. Nagy has slumped after a hot start. After a good first game as a trio, the Brian Savage-Daymond Langkow-Shane Doan line has disappeared while expected scorers such as Chris Gratton (two goals), Krys Kolanos (two), David Tanabe (four points) and Sillinger (two) have been a no-show all season.
“We've had individual meetings and we're laying it on the table, it's time to step it up,'' Francis said. “A lot of times you fool yourself (about your effort as a player), but you're not fooling anybody else. We're just trying to rattle some cages and it's time that cages should be rattled.''
And one of the forwards will be sitting in the press box watching Sjostrom tonight.
“He hasn't scored but all reports are Sjostrom is playing hard, with a lot of emotion and enthusiasm,'' Francis said. “Those are components that we need in our team play right now.''
The Coyotes need a spark. Sjostrom needs a goal. Maybe both sides can get what they seek against the Kings.
“It would be pretty funny if he winds up getting that first one up here,'' Taffe said. “He'd never hear the end of it.''