The Phoenix Coyotes won their first game of the season by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 on Wednesday night. The Coyotes record improved to 1-2-0. Fans showered the ice at Jobing.com Arena with hats as new Coyote Steve Sullivan scored a hat trick in the game.
The Coyotes may have won the game, but they still suffered a huge loss. Starting goalie Mike Smith left just 11 minutes into the game with a lower-body injury. He would not return. After the game, Head Coach Dave Tipett said that Smith orginally tightened up in warm-ups. Tippett said that there will be an emergency recall of Chad Johnson from the Portland Pirates for tomorrow's game in San Jose. Phoenix is already without center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Rusty Klesla who are day-to-day with lower-body injuries.
Period one did not see any goals, but it still was a dramatic period for the Yotes. During the second TV timeout, Smith headed to the locker room. He was replaced by Jason LaBarbera who immediately made two big saves to keep the game tied at zero. It was LaBarbera's first appearance of the season. The forward line of Lauri Korpikoski, David Moss and Boyd Gordon started the game; a unit that Tippett spoke fondly of after the morning skate.
Blue Jackets' defenseman Fedor Tyutin opened the scoring in the second period with a shot from the point that beat LaBarbera. It was the second time in the first three games that the Coyotes allowed the first goal. Just a few minutes later, Sullivan scored his first goal as a Coyote to tie the game at one. The Coyotes would end the period with a one goal lead thanks to Super Swede Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It was Ekman-Larsson's first goal and first point of the new season. Coyotes fans hope they see the 21-year-old on the score sheet frequently in the coming years.
Three minutes into the third period, Columbus took two tripping penalties on the same Coyotes possession giving Phoenix two minutes of a 5-on-3 power play. Half way through the penalty, Sullivan scored his second goal of the night to give the Yotes a 3-1 lead. The man of the night struck again as Sullivan scored his third goal of the game to seal the victory for the Yotes. "You want to try to get as many as you can," Sullivan said after the game, "the more goals you score, [the tougher it is] for the other team to win." Ekman-Larsson added an insurance goal as he scored his second goal of the night with just five minutes remaining in the game.
Five For Winning
1. Keep it simple. The Coyotes have made some poor decisions on defense in the past couple of games; everything from failures to clear the puck out of the defensive zone to bad stretch passes through traffic to failing to mark opposing players in front of the net. If they can't tighten up defensively, this team is going nowhere. While there were still some ill advised passes, the mistakes in the neutral zone and defensive zone were much fewer on this night. There were a lot more Coyotes' sticks in between a Columbus player and LaBarbera in the defensive zone. The Coyotes dictated the pace of the game which did not happen on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
2. Stay disciplined. Phoenix took five penalties against Chicago, and conceded one power play goal. Any team in the NHL can score on the power play if given enough chances. Stay out of the box and don't give Columbus' offense any freebies. The Coyotes took three penalties on the night but allowed no goals. Discipline is still an issue the team needs to work on.
3. Keep the momentum going. Just 30 seconds after Keith Yandle closed the deficit to 5-4, Mike Smith allowed a soft goal that killed Phoenix's chance for a comeback. The Coyotes also took two penalties in the final five minutes of the game, essentially preventing them from mounting any sustained forecheck. They will have to do a better job managing the game and avoid shooting themselves in the foot at the most inopportune times. Phoenix ended the second period with two goals and did not allow Columbus to score before the intermission. The Coyotes entered the third period with the lead, which is all you can ask for as a Coyotes fan.
4. Don't look ahead. Immediately after the game, the Coyotes will hop on a flight to San Jose to play the Sharks. Although the Sharks are in the division, the Coyotes must take care of business at home. Even with tomorrow's game looming, the Coyotes focused on the task on hand ad played a strong home game. The win was a testament to their focus.
5. Take care of business. Columbus is a better team than many give them credit for, but with all due respect, this is a game the Coyotes should win. They have all the pieces to be a very good team in the Western Conference. Phoenix has to play like it against the team that finished last in the NHL last year. The Coyotes took care of business by getting their first win of the season. It was a welcome sight for the team and the fans who did not want to fall to 0-3.
Our Three Stars of the Game
1. Steve Sullivan: HAT TRICK! The new Coyote scored his first three goals with the team to tie the game at one, and to give the Coyotes a two-goal lead.
2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson: Scored two goals and an assist as well as being solid on defense. He also helped create the turnover that lead to the first Coyotes goal. He finished with a +3 rating.
3. Jason LaBarbera: Forced in due to Smith's injury, LaBarbera played well giving up only one goal after playing the vast majority of the game.
The Coyotes hit the ice again tomorrow night as they travel to San Jose to play their Pacific Division rival Sharks. The Coyotes hope to win their second game in a row in less than 24 hours to even their record at 2-2.