The Phoenix Coyotes were not supposed to win this game. To take home the victory, the Coyotes needed to successfully execute parts of the game that eluded them all season.
Mike Smith had yet to earn a shutout. The Coyotes took 10 penalties and gave the Vancouver Canucks seven power plays. Phoenix's penalty kill is among the five worst units in the NHL (ranked 26th). On top of all that, the Coyotes had to defend a four-minute penalty kill with a 1-0 lead to end the game.
In those four minutes, a season's worth of bugaboos were finally solved, at least for the night. The penalty kill successfully killed off the sixth and seventh Vancouver power plays of the game and Smith finally earned his first shutout of the season to snap Phoenix's four-game losing streak.
"One of the things the team was talking about before the game was - we have to earn our confidence back and earn points and that's what we did tonight," coach Dave Tippett said.
Confidence is a huge driver in motivating a team and was a big factor for Smith's improvements the last few games, especially on Thursday.
"It's easy to get down on yourself and to get negative when things aren't going your way," Smith said. "It kind of just kept building and building and finally it's just like - it's not even fun anymore to be like that. So I brought a new mindset to the rink just to enjoy the game and to be more positive and it's definitely helped me have more energy and feel better about my game."
Confidence for a goaltender can also come from a solid penalty killing unit in front of him, and vise versa.
"(The PK) was tremendous tonight." Smith said. "It's been an Achilles' heel a little bit for this team, but it starts with me making saves."
A big boost to the Coyotes' PK unit was the return of defenseman Zbynek Michalek after he missed 13 games with a lower-body injury. The 31-year-old logged more than six minutes on a penalty kill that nullified all seven Canucks power plays.
"That was a very nice surprise, him saying he wanted to jump in (tonight). Tonight he became a valuable player for us (on the PK)," Tippett said.
The Coyotes would need him as the Canucks came into the game with a chip on their shoulder after being embarrassed to the tune of a 9-1 defeat in Anaheim on Wednesday. The Canucks had 73 penalty minutes against the Ducks and continued piling up the PIMs in Glendale.
The Coyotes got the best of the Canucks in a penalty-laden first period.
One night after allowing 11 power play opportunities to the Ducks, Vancouver was called for its first infraction 1:03 into the game. They would kill off that interference penalty but wouldn't be so lucky the second time around.
Mikkel Boedker drew a holding penalty on Jason Garrison as the Dane drove to the front of Vancouver's net with speed. The ensuing Phoenix power play saw a fabulous keep at the blue line by Keith Yandle, a seemingly common occurrence lately, before the alternate captain found Antoine Vermette. Vermette plotted his 13th goal of the season with a shot that ricocheted off Dan Hamhuis and past Eddie Lack for the eventual game-winning goal.
In total, the two teams combined for seven minor penalties in the opening period.
The penalty taking didn't slow down in the second period, but the scoring did. Despite adding six more minor penalties to the game's total, neither team could capitalize on multiple power play attempts and the game remained 1-0 in favor of the Coyotes.
Another period, another round of penalties, this time seven. Martin Hanzal's double minor for high-sticking David Booth with 4:05 remaining in the game put the Coyotes in the worst position possible to close out a one-goal game. But, the Yotes found a way past it to earn their 22nd win of the season.
The Coyotes are four points back of the Canucks and Minnesota Wild, with multiple games in hand, for either of the two Western Conference wild card spots.
- Vancouver's perspective
- Advanced game stats
- Phoenix is now 16-7-3 when scoring first.
- Henrik Sedin had a goal disallowed midway through the third period because he batted it into the net with his hand.
- Michalek logged 16:06 in his return.
- Phoenix went 1/6 on the PP.
- There were 20 total penalties in the game.
- Attendance: 12,307
Our Three Stars of the Game
1. Mike Smith - 29-save shutout, his first of the season.
2. Eddie Lack - Stopped 22-of-23 shots and played a very solid game overall.
3. Antoine Vermette - Game-winning goal and logged solid PP and PK minutes.
The Coyotes take the ice again on Saturday night inside Jobing.com Arena against the New Jersey Devils. Puck drop is scheduled for 6 p.m.