The Phoenix Coyotes added youth to their blue line in hopes of increasing puck possession and ultimately defending their zone less often. Connor Murphy and David Rundblad were inserted into a defensive lineup that now included four players 23 years old or younger.
Phoenix's 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night extended their home point streak to to 10 games with a record on 9-0-1, thanks in large part to that youth.
Murphy scored his first career goal, Rundblad recorded his first point of the season and they limited the amount of shots against to a more manageable number, 30.
"We went younger tonight. We tried to move quick and move the puck better," Coach Dave Tippett said.
In front of the 20-year-old's locker laid a Portland Pirates hockey bag, he had not been with the team long enough for a Coyotes bag of his own. But, inside Murphy's locker was the team's championship belt, awarded to the player of the game.
"He's a real mature kid...He's such a nice kid. He's played very well (in Portland) and he got an opportunity to jump in against a very good team and played well, played very well," Tippett said.
Mike Smith also played well, making 27 saves en route to defeating his former team for the first time as a Coyote.
"It's nice to get a win against a former team," Smith said. "It's in the back of my mind but obviously getting the win for us in No. 1."
The Coyotes sit third in the Pacific Division, Western Conference and the NHL with 31 points and a record of 14-4-3. The Desert Dogs are on a four-game point streak (3-0-1) and have won 10 of their last 13 games (10-2-1).
While the Coyotes have been winning a lot as of late, their starts have ranged from dynamic to shaky. On Saturday, their start erred on the side of the latter.
Phoenix survived an early penalty and a Tampa Bay breakaway to keep the game scoreless through the first half of the opening period. Phoenix capitalized on a power play of their own as Stone rifled a slap shot past Ben Bishop. The goal was the sixth of the season for the young defenseman, a career high.
"I've always been kind of an offensive player," Stone said. "(I've) been known to be able to shoot the puck pretty hard."
The Yotes added to their lead seconds later when Hanzal swept a puck from behind the net off Bishop's left skate and into the net.
Phoenix began the second period on a power play that quickly turned into a two-man advantage. After a scramble in the crease, Ribeiro swatted the loose puck into the net to give the Coyotes a 3-0 lead. Bishop was injured during the play, taking the puck in his shoulder/collarbone area. He was unable to recover from the injury and was removed from the game.
Both teams would swap goals during a 1:36 stretch late in the third period. Tampa Bay cut into Phoenix's lead with Richard Panik's first goal of the season.
The Coyotes answered back with Murphy's first career goal in his first career NHL game with his proud parents looking on; a slap shot from the top of the slot.
"I think I almost broke my hand punching the ice I was so excited," Murphy said.
The Lightning matched Murphy's first career goal with one of their own. J.T. Brown wristed the puck past a falling Smith to cut Phoenix's lead to 4-2.
Shane Doan opened the third period scoring with his team-leading 10th goal of the season. Radim Vrbata hustled to a loose puck behind the Lightning's net, at the end of his shift, and centered the puck. The puck bounced off a Coyote and a Lightning player before landing on Doan's stick for a wrist shot from the slot.
With the game well in hand, the Coyotes faithful at Jobing.com Arena broke out an arena-wide howl that lasted for over a minute.
Tampa Bay would attempt a comeback late in the third period, pulling their goalie with under two minutes remaining. Alex Killorn deflected a Martin St. Louis shot past Smith to cut the deficit to two. Tampa Bay's hope for a comeback was short lived as Lauri Korpikoski iced the game with an empty net goal. Hanzal assisted on Korpikoski's goal for his fourth point of the night, the most points in a game since is rookie season.
Four days off should help the Coyotes get healthier as they look to get Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek back. The extended break was not lost on Tippett before Saturday's game. "That's exactly what we talked about before the game. We got a four-day break. There's no use saving anything," Tippett said.
- Tampa Bay's perspective.
- Rostislav Klesla was a healthy scratch.
- David Schlemko left the game with a lower-body injury.
- Phoenix is 9-0-0 when leading after one period.
- All six of Ribeiro's goals have come at home.
- Vrbata recorded his fourth muti-point game of the season.
- Attendance: 12,562
Our Three Stars of the Game
1. Connor Murphy: Scored his first career goal, the game-winning goal. He played a strong, fearless game.
2. Radim Vrbata: Three assists
3. Martin Hanzal: A goal and three assists on the night.
The Coyotes will have four days off until they continue their homestand on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. and is the second game of a three-game homestand.