The Arizona Coyotes went into Thursday’s game with a chip on their shoulders. In their previous game, the Coyotes started strong only to suffer a near complete collapse, and the Desert Dogs needed to show they could do better.
The Coyotes were mostly successful in that. Arizona beat one of the best teams in the division and exited the building with a much-needed two points. But it would prove to be far from a perfect game.
Like the previous game, there was a collapse. Although it came with 5 minutes left, unlike the last game where the Coyotes collapsed with 45 minutes left. Thursday saw the Blues score three goals in less than five minutes left in the game.
A huge factor to the game ending as tight as it did was faceoff losses. Arizona struggled in the area, winning only 39% of draws.
Faceoff losses were a big problem late in the game when you saw St. Louis win faceoffs and keep the zone. St. Louis having possession is a big problem when they have an extra attacker like Ryan O’Reilly without a man to defend him.
Defensive breakdowns at the end also proved to be a problem. The Blues are a very skilled team, and they can exploit weaknesses on the ice, and they found them Tuesday and Thursday. There isn’t much the team can do other than tighten up defensively, stick to their assignments, and hope that their goaltender can save them if they do make a mistake.
St. Louis also had four power play opportunities, far too many for a team with that type of offensive weapons. They didn’t manage to score, but it was just sloppy on the Coyotes’ part.
Arizona has a great penalty kill this season, but you still don’t want to take penalties. Even if the other team doesn’t score, it still means your best offensive players aren’t on the ice, and the other team has a chance to build momentum.
One area that the Coyotes have the advantage is goaltending. The Coyotes have one of the best tandems in the NHL in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, and both have played against the Blues.
St. Louis doesn’t have that luxury, and they are likely going to need to ride Jordan Binnington. The Coyotes matched up well against Binnington, having gotten the see him play for two games. In fact, St. Louis was most dangerous when they didn’t have Binnington in net on Thursday.
Another big part of the Coyotes’ win was the emergence of the “Short Leash” line. Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, and Conor Garland aren’t known for their defensive play, and Coach Tocchet joked before the game that they were “on a short leash”.
On Thursday, they proved to be the Coyotes’ most effective line.
They were good enough in their own zone, but they even better in the offensive zone. The trio skated circles around the opposition and scored two of Arizona’s four goals. Arizona’s lines are very mercurial, but they may have found something that works and can stay together long-term with this line.
Tonight’s game is a surprise for both teams and was supposed to happen at the end of March. The Coyotes were supposed to head to Minnesota this weekend to play the Wild before heading to Colorado to play the Avalanche. Those four games have been postponed, as the Wild are currently dealing with COVID issues. Rather than head back to the desert, the league determined to have the Coyotes and Blues play again.
It is the right call for both teams, as the Blues would have been unable to play the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. Everyone stays fresh, and neither team has to worry too much about rust. And for fans, they get to experience a mini-playoff series as the two teams will play six straight games against each other.
Players to Watch
Arizona: Clayton Keller - One player on the Short Leash line didn't get rewarded in the last game and it was Clayton Keller. Keller looked good on the line though, and he could have easily gotten credit for the Schmaltz goal being right there as well. Hopefully, he will get rewarded with a goal tonight.
St. Louis: Mike Hoffman - Hoffman has been good this series, with a goal in the first game and two goals in the second. With the Blues down his time on ice also jumped to 19:13 in the last game, a season-high for the highly skilled winger.
Arizona: Lawson Crouse (questionable, upper body), Christian Fischer (upper body), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (lower body)
St. Louis: Tyler Bozak (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (upper body), Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder)
Today's rescheduled game will be at 1:00 pm Arizona time. It will air on Fox Sports Arizona, NHLN, and SN and on Fox Sports 910 AM.