A familiar face and a familiar foe took down the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night.
The familiar face - goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who played a pair of successful games for the Coyotes in Dec. 2011.
The familiar foe - Nathan Horton, a Coyotes killer for two previous teams who emerged once again, this time with a new team.
McElhinney stopped 34 shots en route to his fourth career shutout. The 30-year-old is the only goaltender to shutout the Coyotes this season.
Horton emerged from offseason shoulder surgery that cost him the first 40 games of the season, to face a team he has dominated over the years. He scored the game-winning goal in the second period that give him five goals and 11 points in nine career games against Phoenix.
While a strong third period gave the Coyotes the lead on the shot clock, the team came out flat and stayed flat for most of the game.
"We didn't play well enough. We didn't execute well enough. We didn't compete hard enough," coach Dave Tippett said.
Assistant captain Keith Yandle said the team just ran into a hot goaltender who was able to steal a game.
Unlike McElhinney, Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith wasn't perfect on the night, but bounced back with a solid performance after being pulled in the second period on Tuesday after allowing three goals on 10 shots.
Two rebounds on two different power plays were all the Blue Jackets needed to take home the win as Phoenix killed only two of Columbus' four power plays.
Phoenix's penalty kill struggled with the absence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson who left the game in the first period with an injury. The Coyotes were forced to play the majority of the game with five defensemen.
Ekman-Larsson's injury incited anger into what was a fairly uneventful start to the game.
Derek MacKenzie appeared to board Ekman-Larsson midway through the first period. With OEL shaken up and no penalty called, Yandle took matters into his own hands, literally. Yandle challenged MacKenzie to a fight, but neither man landed too many punches. The Boston native was able to take out some of his frustrations of not being selected for the US Olympic roster on Wednesday.
"I'm not gonna really beat anybody up, but I thought I could stick up for (Ekman-Larsson)," Yandle said.
Ekman-Larsson was helped to the locker room after brief stop at the bench and would not return. He was diagnosed with an upper-body injury. Tippett said he believes the young Swede will be fine and categorized him as day-to-day.
Columbus struck first after Smith was called for his second playing the puck outside of the trapezoid penalty of the season. "(It) could be the worst rule in hockey," Smith said.
In his first game as a Blue Jacket, Horton swatted a rebound off a James Wisniewski shot into the net on the ensuing power play.
The Blue Jackets opened up a two goal lead on their second rebound goal of the game. Nick Foligno muscled through two Coyotes players to get off the initial shot. Smith saved that shot and another one before RJ Umberger finally put one past him.
Despite a final period where the Yotes amassed 21 shots, they could never solve McElhinney.
The Coyotes remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference despite the loss. Phoenix has a two point lead over the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars for that final spot.
- Columbus' perspective
- With OEL injured, Yandle played more than half the game - 30:37.
- Martin Hanzal was all over the ice, leading the team in hits (6) and blocks (4).
- David Rundblad played his first game in nearly a month recording 21:50 of ice time.
- Attendance: 10,539
Our Three Stars of the Game
1. Curtis McElhinney: 34-save shutout.
2. Nathan Horton: Game-winning goal in his first game back.
3. RJ Umberger: A goal that iced the game.
The Coyotes continue their six-game home stand on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Puck drop is scheduled for 6 p.m.