The Phoenix Coyotes desperately needed a bounce back victory to start their road trip off right. After being throttled Thursday night at home against the Chicago Blackhawks, the equally imposing San Jose Sharks looked to be yet another tough test. This time however, excellent goaltending, timely defense, and superb shootout moves pushed the Desert Dogs over the top.
Although it was an admittedly low bar to beat, the Coyotes started out much better than they did against Chicago. They clogged up the neutral zone and kept their turnovers to a minimum. Although they did make some mistakes down the stretch, the stellar play of Mike Smith prevented any of these errors from making their way onto the score sheet.
As improved as their defense was, the Coyotes offense was undoubtedly a liability in this one. The Coyotes had a ton of shots go wide of the net on their own accord, and San Jose blocked a good chunk of the ones that remained. Although there were some great breakaway chances by Raffi Torres, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Boyd Gordon, Phoenix was unable to convert on any of them.
The injury bug that has plagued the Coyotes all season made a couple of appearances today as well. OEL missed some time in the first period after blocking a shot with his foot, although he would continue to play. Martin Hanzal (stop me if you've heard this one before) was not nearly so lucky; he blocked a shot with his hand in the late stages of the 2nd period and only skated one shift in the 3rd. The upside was that Rostislav Klesla finally returned to the lineup, and his grit came in handy for this game (although he did take a bad roughing penalty for an unnecessarily high hit to close out the 2nd period).
The shootout was all Coyotes: Mike Smith stopped Michal Handzus and James Sheppard, and both Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata proceeded to undress Antti Niemi to win the skills contest 2-0. Smith and Niemi both get deservedly credited with shutouts in this game.
Five For Winning
1. Score First: The Coyotes play extremely well when they are winning, unfortunately they spend more time playing from behind and chasing the game. If the Coyotes can score first they can simplify their game and play the way they need to to get the win. I guess they technically scored first, since San Jose didn't find the back of the net at all in this game. They would've rather seen those two goals come early in the game and not in the shootout though.
2. Stay Disciplined: Say what you want about the validity of some of the calls during the Blackhawks game, there is no reason for 2 players to receive penalties for arguing with the referees. The Yotes can not give the Sharks the same chances that they gave the Blackhawks by taking so many penalties and that requires discipline. The Coyotes looked much more disciplined in this one, although they did take a couple of delay of game penalties, and Rusty Klesla was guilty of a really unnecessary high hit.
3. Defense: Defensively the Coyotes had been playing a lot better as of late, until last game. They need to forget about that game though and concentrate on what has made them successful. Surrendering 0 goals is a sign of good defensive play; Phoenix also made far fewer mistakes in their own end than against Chicago. The only problem was that they were there for way too long.
4. Special Teams: The Coyotes have surprisingly been good at scoring goals on the power play, and hopefully they will continue that trend today. No power play goals, but the zone entries, long the power play's biggest weakness, continued to look good. The PK also did its job today, going 4 for 4.
5. Win in Regulation: With the shortened season a regulation win against an opponent becomes much more important. The Coyotes don't want to give their division rival any more points then they already have. That didn't happen unfortunately, but the Coyotes minimized the damage by grabbing the extra point for themselves.
Our Three Stars of the Game
3rd Star: Zbynek Michalek. Michalek had 8 blocked shots for the Coyotes today and was extremely important in the defensive zone as his normally reliable partner Oliver Ekman-Larsson had an off game.
2nd Star: Antti Niemi. Niemi stopped all 22 shots he faced, which in almost every situation will be good enough to get the win. He also had some timely saves on breakaway chances that could very easily have gone in.
1st Star: Mike Smith. Smitty needed a bounce back game after getting shellacked against Chicago. Did he ever deliver, stopping all 33 San Jose shots plus the two shooters in the shootout.
250 comments on an early afternoon gameday thread tonight. Shoutouts to Carl Putnam, TwoTon21, Carl Pavlock, Jordan Ellel, NAU yotes fan, Alabama Jammer, Timmy Hate, Dr.John, Newtonian Fluid, and Yours Truly for joining in on the conversation.
The Coyotes will head off to Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche for the first time this season Monday night. Colorado is struggling offensively without Ryan O'Reilly in the fold. Puck drops at 7 PM Arizona time and can be seen of Fox Sports Arizona and heard on XTRA 910 AM.