The Phoenix Coyotes season may not be mathematically over, but with each game that doesn't involve getting two points, it becomes more and more of a certainty that the three-year playoff run for the Desert Dogs is at an end. The 'Yotes fought to the bitter end to tie the game, but it was the St. Louis Blues that had the final laugh, as Brian Elliott stopped all three Coyotes shooters in the shootout, to secure a 2-1 Blues win.
Early in the season, as we've documented many times, Thursday nights were not kind to the Coyotes. More recently, however, the Coyotes have played pretty well on Thursdays, including a 7-4 win over Nashville and a 4-2 win over Detroit. In that Detroit game, an emergency spot start by Chad Johnson proved instrumental in the win. Tonight, it was again Johnson getting the call for the Coyotes, making his first road start of the season. Over the course of the night, he would make 29 saves, only getting beaten on a deflection by David Perron midway through the first that was reviewed for a possible high stick, but was well below the cross bar.
For the next 49 minutes, it looked as if that Perron goal would be enough as St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott was giving the Coyotes absolutely nothing all game. To make matters worse, Elliott was getting help from his best friend the right post, as Rob Klinkhammer and Zbynek Michalek each put shots off the iron in the second period. And while the fans grew restless at the lack of scoring, the Coyotes brough a strong effort to St. Louis in the must-win affair.
The referees, Tim Peel (ugh!) and Mike Leggo, unfortunately became a part of the story late in the game as a trio of boarding plays (with only one called) created a significant amount of bad blood between the teams. The first hit occurred along the side wall when Kyle Chipchurra hit Vladimir Sobotka from behind into the boards. A scrum ensued in which Sobotka would suckerpunch Oliver Ekman-Larsson as the two sized each other up, although OEL would not drop the gloves. Somehow, Peel and Leggo called no penalties on the play. Later in the period, with just over two minutes to play, David Backes boards OEL hard into the corner boards which got an immediate reaction from Derek Morris, Antoine Vermette, and Shane Doan - with various scrums ensuing while Backes pretty much covered his bum. Although Peel (or maybe Leggo) immediately made the initial boarding call, the ensuing punches, pushes, and general mayhem would get nothing.
This led to a hectic powerplay opportunity that saw Martin Hanzal hit Alex Pietrangelo from behind into the boards, similar to the earlier Chipchura hit. With no penalty or stoppage, Hanzal grabbed the puck, swung it to OEL who found Radim Vrbata for the game tying goal with just 67 seconds remaining. A livid Blues defenseman took a slash at Hanzal's leg after the goal was scored, although it looked like just a grazing blow. More chirping would ensue and at the end of the game, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock would actually be assessed a game misconduct for coming onto the ice and barking at the officials while being restrained by one of the linesmen.
In the shootout, Andy McDonald got a nice shot over the stick of Chad Johnson for the only goal. Elliott gloved an OEL shot, forced Vermette to shoot wide, and got his stick on Vrbata's automatic forehand-backhand shot for the victory.
During the overtime, Johnson made a huge save on Chris Stewart on a semi-breakaway chance that led to the comment of the night below.
The Coyotes now have 44 points and will need to win out (5-0-0) to get to the magic number of 54 which would give them about a 50% chance to make the playoffs.
On the season, the Blues took all 3 meetings with the Coyotes and out-scored them 11-4.
Five For Winning
1. Goals. Forget the usual score first, just score. The Coyotes didn't put the puck in the net a single time in their last game on Monday and didn't the last time they played the Blues either. They would score one late, but it wasn't enough.
2. Contain the Captain. David Backes went all Hulk on the Canucks on Tuesday night. The Yotes need to put a body on him and not give him time/space, unlike what they did with Logan Couture in their last game. Backes had an assist on the goal for the Blues and was physical all night; he's a younger Shane Doan and imposes his wills on teams with his physical play - he'll be fun to play against for years.
3. Elude the Trap. The Yotes tend to struggle mightily when teams employ systems which clog the neutral zone. Given the Phoenix's lack of elite passing skill they likely need to find ways to create aggressive dump and chase situations. Having players hitting the blueline at full speed and with ill intent will be crucial. Coyotes tried a lot of ways and weren't as bad as we've seen them at times against the Blues, but they still were unable to really play their aggressive forecheck type of game.
4. Energy. The Coyotes have been lacking this ingredients for the majority of time in their last two contests. I thought the Coyotes had good energy and it showed in how well they did play against a team that gives them fits.
5. Desperation. Related to #4.The Yotes need to be the more desperate team. They haven't looked like a team fighting for their playoff lives in their last 2 games. Certainly at the end of regulation the desperation was there, but probably not as much in the OT as it needed to be. Once it went to the skills competition, desperation won't really get you too far, unfortunately.
Our Three Stars
1. Brian Elliott - 33 saves, stoned all three in the shootout and was solid throughout the game
2. Chad Johnson - continues to impress with each outing, giving up the lone goal on 30 shots and making some big saves.
3. Andy McDonald - had some good scoring chances during the game and cashed in during the shootout for the lone goal.
Coyotes have two more games on the road with the next coming in Chicago against the Western Conference overall #1 seed (clinched) Blackhawks. Chicago has dominated the 'Yotes this season and the Coyotes need a miracle to make the playoffs. Should be a good time.
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