Quick starts have not been the challenge recently for the Arizona Coyotes. Finishing the job has been.
That was almost the case tonight with a third period push by the visitors, but the Coyotes leapt out to an early lead in the first before piling on in the second period to earn a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Gila River Arena on Saturday night.
1-0 Arizona - Tampa Bay’s shaky goaltending situation reared its ugly head early as Tobias Rieder benefited from an ill-advised attempt by Ben Bishop to cheat on a potential cross-ice pass. Rieder carried the puck into the offensive zone and dropped it back to Radim Vrbata, which drew Nikita Nesterov away from Rieder. Vrbata passed it back to a now open Rieder, who caught Bishop with a quick shot high to give the Coyotes the early lead. Assists to Vrbata and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the goal at 8:05.
2-0 Arizona - The near-side post continued to haunt Ben Bishop in the first period, as Radim Vrbata corralled the puck behind the net, circled around to the edge of the far-side faceoff dot, and let loose a quick shot that Bishop couldn’t stop. Assists to Martin Hanzal and Tobias Rieder on the goal at 10:19.
2-1 Arizona - Cedric Paquette got the Lightning back to within one before the first period ended. He fought through traffic to get to a rebound that Mike Smith left in the low slot. After muscling Jakob Chychrun to create a bit of space, Paquette’s shot picked the top corner. Assists to Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival on the goal at 18:39.
3-1 Arizona - Michael Stone’s long scoring drought is over, as he scored his first goal of the season off of a rebound in the dying seconds of a five-on-three power play. Stone had cycled low into the offensive zone before as Radim Vrbata took his place at the point. Vrbata’s shot was blocked by Martin Hanzal in front of Bishop and slid to Bishop’s right, where Stone was waiting with a wide open net. Assists to Hanzal and Vrbata on the five-on-three goal at 14:56
4-1 Arizona - Christian Fischer was brought to the NHL for his scoring touch, and it took less than a full game to see why. Fischer skated straight past a napping Tampa defense to get to the front of the net. Jamie McGinn had no trouble finding him with a seeing-eye pass from the top of the offensive zone, and Fischer re-directed the puck over Bishop for a moment the rookie won’t soon forget. Assists to McGinn and Alexander Burmistrov on the goal at 16:25.
5-1 Arizona - The Tampa Bay Lightning may have been eager to get to the locker room and reset, but the Coyotes had other ideas. Martin Hanzal joined Radim Vrbata in the double-digit goal club as Vrbata drew three Tampa Bay defenders towards him. Hanzal was left all alone on the other side of the zone, and Ben Bishop had no chance once Vrbata’s pass found its way through. Assists to Vrbata and Tobias Rieder on the goal at 19:44.
5-2 Arizona - Vladislav Namestnikov was in the right place in front of Mike Smith to receive a Valtteri Filppula centering pass from the near-side corner. Smith had no chance to stop Namestnikov’s one-timer. Assists to Filppula and Ondrej Palat on the goal at 9:45.
5-3 Arizona - Hope you didn’t leave the game or start writing the recap early, because the Lightning made a game out of it late thanks to a power play goal by Ondrej Palat. After Shane Doan went off for slashing, Palat managed to get the puck in the slot and convert to make it a two goal game. Assists to Tyler Johnson and Nikita Nesterov on the power play goal at 14:18.
- Which Coyotes offense will we see? - I like this offense. Can we keep it? Five goals in two periods is enough to win most hockey games, though the Coyotes had to use nearly all of them to hold onto the win.
- Who shows up? - The line of Tobias Rieder, Martin Hanzal, and Radim Vrbata came to play tonight, as did Christian Fischer.
- What will Shane Doan do? - Doan didn’t record a point tonight, but his third period penalty brought the Lightning to within two, so kudos for making the game more exciting?
Players of the Game
Tampa - Ondrej Palat - Palat had a goal and an assist as part of Tampa’s late push in the third period.
Arizona - Radim Vrbata - Vrbata had a four point night, with a goal and three assists. He now has 33 points in 46 games this season.
- For more on the Tampa Bay Lightning, check out Raw Charge
- Jordan Martinook and Josh Jooris were Arizona’s scratches up front.
- Christian Fischer made his NHL debut for the Coyotes. He is the second rookie this season to score for the Coyotes in his first game, after Anthony DeAngelo.
- Tobias Rieder’s goal was his first since December 29th versus the New York Rangers, while Michael Stone’s was his first since March 26th against Philadelphia, the same game in which he suffered an ACL injury that required surgery.
- Tonight was the first time the Coyotes have scored five goals this season since October 27th at Philadelphia.
- Ben Bishop would be replaced by Andrei Vasilevskiy to start the third period.
The South Florida Showcase continues as the Florida Panthers come to town on Monday night. Puck drop is at 7 PM Arizona time.