Normally, throwing objects onto the ice is frowned upon. Thursday night in Glendale, it was the icing on the cake of the Phoenix Coyotes' first win of the 2013-14 season.
Scores of hats, and a lone sombrero, littered the ice at Jobing.com Arena seconds after Radim Vrbata punched home his third goal of the night. A goal that gave the Yotes a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
Scoring 5-on-5, 4-on-4 and on the power play, Vrbata opened the new season the same way he ended last season, with a hat trick.
"It's a good start to the season. I'll take it," Vrbata said. "We jumped on them early and we played our game most of the night. It's great to get a hat trick, but it was exciting to see us play well and beat a good team."
Vrbata is known as a streaky scorer. He started last season with a pair of goals but scored only once in the next 13 games. Coach Dave Tippett joked, "We'll be OK if he just gets one goal next game instead of three."
Thursday was an emotional night for Coyotes fans. In front of a sold-out crowd, the new owners of the Coyotes gleefully trotted out to center ice as a formal introduction to a new era of Coyotes hockey.
"It was real exciting for us to see how excited those owners were on the ice," Tippett said. "When they walked back off (the ice) in front of our bench, they looked like they were living their dream; just like (the players and coaches) live our dream with the jobs we have."
The new era of Coyotes hockey began with a new season and a team coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Any questions about goaltender Mike Smith being able to regain his 2011-12 form were answered in the first period. Smith made a pair of sprawling glove saves to keep the Rangers off the board. The 31-year-old stopped 23 of 24 shots en route to his first victory of the year.
The energy and emotion in the building helped the goaltender. "It felt like a playoff game," Smith said.
Strong goaltending, defensive play and special teams success allowed Phoenix to open up the season with a blow out victory.
"We were just solid from the drop of the puck," Smith said. "(This game) was an excellent example of what we need to do to win."
Season opening games often come with NHL debuts and this one was no different. Lucas Lessio made his NHL debut on the Yotes third line alongside Antoine Vermette and David Moss. While Lessio did not find his way on the score sheet, his high-energy play caught the attention of his coach who smiled when describing how tenacious the forward is in every puck battle.
Lessio said it felt great to play and is happy to get his first NHL game out of the way. "All the veterans were so great to me. They don't treat me like a 20-year-old, they treat me like an adult," Lessio said.
Kyle Chipchura opened the scoring 3:36 into the first game of the season. Smith's solid goaltending, aided by the aforementioned sprawling glove saves, gave the Yotes a 1-0 lead after one period of play.
New York evened the score at one early in the second period on a power play goal by defenseman Marc Staal. Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek lost his man on the rush and left Staal open in the slot.
Moments after a Coyotes power play expired, Vrbata scored his first of three consecutive goals to put the Desert Dogs in front for good. While the record books will show the second period power play as a failure, the pressure put on by the new 1-3-1 Coyotes power play led directly to Vrbata's game-winning goal.
Vrbata would get his power play goal anyway after Rangers' defenseman Dan Girardi was assessed a roughing penalty against Mikkel Boedker. Vrbata would add a 4-on-4 goal for good measure after J.T. Miller and Lessio received roughing minors.
The asking price for the pending UFA Vrbata rose with Thursday's performance. The team was reportedly negotiating with the 32-year-old winger during training camp.
A pair of fights broke out late in the third period between Phoenix's Chris Brown and New York's Derek Dorsett as well as Phoenix's Martin Hanzal and New York's Rick Nash.
Phoenix embarks on a five-game road trip beginning on Saturday in San Jose. They will subsequently travel to Long Island, Detroit, Philadelphia and Raleigh before returning home to Arizona. A trip the team hopes will build camaraderie early in the season.
- Vrbata is the 1st NHL player to have a hat trick in a season finale and then in the season opener for same team since Luc Robitaille in 1988.
- Vrbata's hat trick is the 5th of his career.
- Three of the Coyotes' four centers won at least 57 percent of their face-offs, with Mike Ribeiro being the only exception (38%).
- Phoenix had 13 takeaways in the game compared to New York's three.
- Attendance: 17,125
Our Three Stars of The Game
1. Radim Vrbata: This one is fairly obvious.
2. Mike Smith: Kept the team in the game throughout the night, stopped all but one shot.
3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson: Played the most minutes of any Coyote while recording his first point of the season.
The Yotes take the ice on Saturday in San Jose. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and is the start of a five-game road trip.