The Arizona Coyotes have been on the road for 18 days without a home game. Some of that was spent recharging the batteries during All Star weekend, which was held in Columbus, Ohio. Therefore, it was sort of fitting for the Coyotes to wrap up this season long, eight game road trip in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. Ending it with a 4-1 victory was even better.
No one would have blamed the Coyotes if they came out flat in the last game of a long and winding road trip. Instead, Arizona came out with the pedal to the metal, outshooting the Jackets 12-2 in the opening ten minutes of the first. The Coyotes fourth line of Lucas Lessio, Brendan Shinnimin and B.J. Crombeen generated pressure in the Jackets' zone. Crombeen would throw a shot on net that Columbus goalie Anton Forsberg would stop, but Lucas Lessio would corral the rebound from behind the net and slam it into the net to give Arizona a well deserved 1-0 lead at exactly 8:00 of the first.
The lead would hold through the opening stanza but Connor Murphy, a Columbus native, took a cross checking penalty late in the first period to give the Jackets a power play entering the second. With all kinds of traffic in front, James Wisniewski unleashed a one timer from the middle of the blue line at 0:40 of the second that Mike Smith never saw to tie the game at one. Columbus had weathered the early Coyote onslaught and now had the momentum. But the Coyotes refused to lose.
Given a powerplay on an offensive zone penalty from Wisniewski, the Coyotes capitalized in a big way. Oliver Ekman-Larsson took a shot from just above the right face off circle. Coyote captain Shane Doan was set up in front, and his picture perfect screen allowed OEL's wrister to elude Forsberg for his 15th goal at 2:32. A little over two and a half minutes later at 5:19, the Coyotes power play struck again. Ryan Murray was sent to the box for hooking and Doan would put a rebound through a sprawling Forsberg off a Keith Yandle point shot. The special teams show made the score 3-1, and Columbus never recovered.
Columbus would tilt the ice in the third period, outshooting the Coyotes 12-2 in the final 20 minutes, but they couldn't solve Mike Smith. The Coyotes' beleaguered netminder made some key saves and the defense held in front of him to keep the score 3-1 until Tobias Rieder salted things away with an empty netter at 17:49 for his 8th of the year.
It wasn't always a pretty road trip, but the Coyotes finished the eight game swing with a 3-3-2 record for eight points. With three wins in the last four game, Arizona returns home with some momentum and confidence.
- The Coyotes outshot Columbus 14-10 in the 1st period, but ended up losing the total shots battle 29-31 on the night.
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson's 15th goal of the year was both a career high and enough to make him the league leader in goals among defensemen this season.
- Arizona went two of three on the power play, and killed two of three penalties.
- Keith Yandle added two assists to give him a team high 36 points.
- Antoine Vermette also had two assists in another return to Columbus. He has one goal and five assists in ten career games against the Jackets as a Coyote.
- Brendan Shinnimin recorded his first NHL point on the Lessio goal.
- Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen combined for six shots and no points. Arizona did a nice job corralling the All-Star duo.
- Jack Johnson played 24:20 to lead all skaters.
- Anton Forsberg made only his third start of the season, and his first since November 8th against Tampa Bay.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Mike Smith. The Coyotes goalie stopped 30 of 31 shots and made some big saves down the stretch to keep the two goal lead.
- Oliver Ekman Larsson. Had the game winning goal and led the Coyotes in ice time and shots on goal.
- Brendan McMillan. McMillan didn't score, but he was all over the ice with five shots on goal, two blocked shots and some huge sticks in lanes on Columbus chances. He, Dave Moss and Kyle Chipchura set the tone for Arizona all night long.
The Coyotes finally return to Gila River Arena with a matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes. Arizona looks for revenge from an ugly 3-0 loss in November on Thursday night at 7PM.