Backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera got the nod tonight over a surging Mike Smith, and after over a week riding the pine it was clear from the start that the career number two was a bit rusty. The coaching staff's risky move backfired on this occasion and the Phoenix Coyotes lost by a 4-3 margin to the bottom of the NHL barrel, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rather than ride the hot hand and secure two extremely valuable points that were ripe for the picking, Phoenix placed their best player on the bench and paid the consequences. The only positive to be taken from tonight's performance is the fortunate fact that Phoenix locals were not forced to watch their team lay such a large egg. You can find out what went wrong after the jump...1st Period - The Phoenix Coyotes were the best team on the ice from the moment the puck dropped ... for about four minutes that is. In those four minutes, the 'Yotes fulfilled one of their oft mentioned exhortations: score first. A seeing-eye blast from the blue line by defenseman Adrian Aucoin found its way through traffic and beat Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford at the 1:49 mark. With the early tally, Phoenix appeared to be following through with the first of our pregame Five for Winning tips by pouncing on the disillusioned Blue Jackets from the get go.
Unfortunately, any sense of momentum from Aucoin's slapper for his second goal of the season was halted in sudden fashion. Columbus winger Tomas Kubalik deflected a shot by Player to Watch Aaron Johnson behind LaBarbera and into the net, putting an end to Phoenix's hopes of an easy victory. This goal to tie it up came nearly four minutes after the Coyotes took the lead and signaled the last time the Desert Dogs would have any control at all in the opening period.
Before the smoke had cleared from Columbus' signature cannon blast goal celebration, the typically anemic Blue Jackets offense struck again at the 7:09 mark. A sharp-angled shot from LaBarbera's right was pushed away to the corner, where David Savard found the puck and passed to sniper Rick Nash. The pretty feed was immediately deposited behind 'Barbs and Columbus staked itself to a 2-1 lead before 10 minutes had even elapsed.
What followed was a half period of hockey that Phoenix fans would likely soon forget. The Coyotes were outhustled, outworked and and out played until the horn sounded, surrendering a power play opportunity and struggling to win those all-important individual battles. By the time the teams hit the locker room, the 'Yotes were trailing 15-6 in the shots department while losing their fair share of faceoffs as well. Considering how well the team had played in last night's spirited 3-2 shootout loss to the Red Wings, one can only imagine the intensity of coach Dave Tippett's between periods rant after such a disappointing period of play.
2nd Period - Apparently, 'Tip's between period exhortations fell on deaf ears. Not two minutes had passed in the period before Columbus fired the cannon for a third time. Ryan Russell's wicked wraparound goal at the 1:52 of the 2nd put the Jackets up by two scores and whatever hope the Coyotes had of mounting a mid-game revival were snuffed out early.
For the next seven or so minutes the game devolved into a defensive quagmire, as the Blue Jackets sat back to protect their lead. Phoenix was able to put pucks on net during this stretch but Sanford was up to the task and denied the Coyotes for the time being.
That is until team-leading scorer Radim Vrbata ramped the pressure up and put two shots on net in a row. The second of these found a friendly stick in front of the net, carried by forward Lauri Korpikoski, and was deflected home at the 8:48 mark. Just like that the Coyotes, who had struggled mightily to this point in the game, were given new life and another chance to pull even.
When Derek Dorsett was sent to the sin bin for boarding Kyle Chipchura with just under five minutes remaining, Phoenix found a great opportunity to take control of the game. Despite an energetic power play, the 'Yotes lived up to their league-worst ranking on the man advantage and failed to cash in the chance.
As is usually the case in hockey, one team's trash became treasure for the other, and soon after killing the penalty Columbus drive home the dagger. A late goal by Derick Brassard, coming at 18:36 of the period, broke the Coyotes' hearts and left them reeling as they retreated to the locker room with a two-goal disadvantage.
3rd Period - The first half of the final period proceeded much as would be expected: the home team with a two-goal lead collapsed into a defensive shell and forced the trailing Coyotes to play catch up. The play went from end to end for a while but nothing changed until Vrbata found the magic touch that has vaulted him to the top of the league's scoring list.
Vrby's beautiful backhander at the 11:12 mark was assisted by Korpikoski and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and managed to give the 'Yotes yet another bit of hope to hang their hats on. With over nine minutes remaining in the game and only one goal separating Phoenix from another overtime extravaganza, a tired Coyotes squad had a great shot to salvage something from a poor performance.
Perhaps two tough roadies in as many nights left the Coyotes drained and depleted, because despite their best efforts Phoenix was unable to even the score. A few decent chances were scattered throughout the last minutes of the game, but Sanford stood his ground and gave the Columbus faithful something to cheer about when the final horn was heard.
Our Three Stars:
1. Derick Brassard - His assist on the Blue Jacket's first goal of the game gave the home team hope, and his goal to close out the 2nd period proved to be the game winner.
2. Lauri Korpikoski - The Korpedo had a hand in all three of the Coyotes goals tonight. He assisted on Aucoin's blast to begin the game and scored at a crucial time to pull Phoenix to within a goal at the midway point of the game. He also continued to show great chemistry with Vrbata by feeding the sniper for yet another goal in the third period.
3. Aaron Johnson - One of our pregame Players to Watch, the young defenseman contributed with an assist on the Jackets' first goal of the game. His defensive effort also helped to keep the Coyotes in check.
Comment of the Night:
I guess this is Hockey the Hard Way