The Phoenix Coyotes entered the Xcel Energy Center as a different team than they were in Nashville. Rusty Klesla was placed on waivers and sent to Portland, Chris Brown and Connor Murphy returned from the AHL and Mike Smith would be on the bench for only the third time all season. Coming off three straight losses that had all seen significant time where the Yotes played with a considerable lack of focus, the hope was that the shake ups would provide a slap to the face for a team struggling to play a complete game. The gamble would pay off and the Coyotes will enter Thanksgiving on a happy note following a total team effort in a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
Tonight started much better than the previous game in Nashville. The Coyotes didn't allow an early goal and didn't suffer any early breakdowns defensively, instead opting to spend much of the opening twenty minutes in the Wild zone. Chance after chance for the Coyotes was turned away by Nicklas Backstrom and it looked like all the hard work would be for naught in the early going. However, an offensive zone rush for the Wild turned into Coyotes offense to start the scoring. Jason Pominville got the puck in the Coyotes zone but David Schlemko blocked his shot. Derek Morris gathered it up and got it to Shane Doan who sprung Mikkel Boedker on a two on one with Mike Ribeiro. Boedker carried the puck across the blue line, looked off Ribeiro and got enough space from Ryan Suter to wrist a beauty to the top corner past Backstrom for his sixth of the season at 8:13 of the first period. The Coyotes had more chances to score, including a late period power play, but ended the first up 1-0 despite outshooting the Wild 12-5 in the period.
The Coyotes extended their lead early in the second as Tim Kennedy made a nice pass from behind the Wild net to a wide open Radim Vrbata. Vrbata was able to one-time the puck past Backstrom to make the score 2-0. The rest of the period saw the Wild have chances to get on the board, but the Coyotes defense and backup netminder Tomas Greiss would turn them away time and time again. In fact, the Coyotes penalty kill would get in on the fun, killing off two second period penalties against the Wild's seventh ranked home ice power play.
The third period would continue to see the Wild take control of the game, but Greiss and the mix-and-match defensive pairings would continue to stand strong. Greiss was especially good early in the third, making save after save including stoning Dany Heatley from point blank range with his right pad. Eventually, Heatley would get his revenge. Nino Niederreiter would put a shot on net that hit Greiss in the mask and would flutter through the air to be knocked into the net by Heatley as he he beat Oliver Ekman-Larrson to the puck at 10:02 of the third. The Wild would press to get the equalizer, including a breath holding moment in front of the net for Charlie Coyle, but OEL would get his stick in the way of the shot and deflect it wide. With under a minute left in the game, Kyle Brodziack would take a very unnecessary penalty when he hit an unsuspecting Jeff Halpern, drawing an interference call. The Wild would eventually get the puck out of their zone and pull Backstrom, but Vrbata made a great defensive play at the blue line to force a turnover and would be rewarded when Martin Hanzal gave him a pass to score the game sealing empty netter with 23 seconds left.
- The Coyotes were dominated in the face-of circle, losing 34 of 57 draws. Jeff Halpern was particularly bad, going 0 for 8.
- With Rusty Klesla being put on waivers, the Coyotes defensive pairings were Ekman-Larsson with Michael Stone, Keith Yandle with Connor Murphy and Derek Morris with David Schlemko.
- Vrbata's goals tonight were his first in six games and only the second time he's scored in 12. Tonight was also the first time Vrbata scored on the road this season.
- Not surprisingly, Ryan Suter led all players in ice time with 28:55. Surprisingly, Michael Stone led the Coyotes, playing 24:34 and adding 4 shots on goal.
- Zach Parise didn't play for Minnesota and Zbynek Michalek and Lauri Korpikoski didn't make the trip for Phoenix.
- After losing three straight games where they outshot their opponents, the Coyotes were outshot 26-29 tonight and won. Hockey's a funny game.
Our Three Stars of the Night
- Radim Vrbata - Scored the game-winning goal and added the empty netter. Led the team with 4 shots and was very effective in the offensive zone.
- Tomas Greiss - He doesn't start much, but he's good when he does. He's now 3-0-0 as a starter for Phoenix after stopping 28 of 29 shots.
- Derek Morris - Had two assists and made a brilliant defensive play at the end of the first period to stop a potential two on one. Was a calming influence in the defensive zone and helped David Schlemko have maybe his best game of the season.
Comment of the Night
Not really any one comment tonight. The gamethread was prompted to come up with a nickname for the backup goalie after some big saves at the end of the second period and nothing was settled. However, the discussion did lead to the headline tonight (with thanks to ChadInGlendale). We need an answer, so it's up to all of you in the FFH community to put it to a vote. The highlight of the topic might have been this one from our own Carl Pavlock:
The Coyotes will return to action after Thanksgiving with a home game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Face-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. Arizona time with tailgating before hand. Come out and grill up some leftovers!
Enjoy your Thanksgiving with friends and family.