It became clear early on last night that the game was going to live and die by the play of Karel Vejmelka. The Arizona Coyotes had a few good chances early in the opening minutes, but it didn’t take long for the Toronto Maple Leafs to start dictating the game’s pace and dominant possession.
Unfortunately, as we have seen time and again, if the Coyotes get trapped, they start taking penalties. Midway through the opening frame, the Coyotes took two penalties almost back-to-back, and the Leafs did everything they could but score. Toronto has the league’s best power play, and they indeed showed it, making goaltender Karel Vejmelka make 11 saves while the Yotes were down a man.
But Vejmelka couldn’t do everything; someone needed to score. And thankfully for the Coyotes, last night’s savior was back from IR.
Ryan Dzingel was in his first game since December 10th and had the puck in the offensive zone. He fired his shot over the net, only to see the puck bounce off the glass and land right to the front of a wide-open cage. Dzingel maneuvered himself into position and knocked the puck past Petr Mrázek and in, giving the Coyotes an early lead.
The opening frame ended with some 4-on-4 hockey after Michael Bunting and Antoine Roussel were called for matching unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. However, Toronto continued to have looks, and the first period ended with the Coyotes outshot 20-6 and up 1-0.
Toronto came out strong to start the second, and the Vejmelka had to make some big saves. He was apparently getting into the Maple Leafs’ heads, and after seeing his team get robbed, Auston Matthews took an offensive-zone hooking call.
The Coyotes couldn’t get much going on their first power play, and the score remained tied 1-0.
When things went back to 5-on-5, the Leafs went back to controlling the game. Toronto continued to control the puck and trapped the Coyotes in their own zone multiple times. The Leafs were doing such a good job keeping the zone it led to Janis Moser having to play a three and half minute shift with only a short break when the Coyotes iced the puck.
But no matter how bad things got, Karel Vejmelka continued to stand tall, and the second period ended with the Coyotes up 1-0.
Unfortunately, 14 seconds into the final frame, Matthews used Shayne Gostisbehere as a screen, roofed his shot past Vejmelka, and tied the game. Vejmelka has been playing exceptionally well, and it was a shame to see his shut-out broken, but the game wasn’t over, and the Coyotes still had work to do.
Even with a tie game, the Leafs did not give up. Karel Vejmelka continued to make massive saves, and William Nylander and former-Coyote Michael Bunting came close a few times.
But midway through the third, Alex Galchenyuk passed the puck up to a streaking Nick Schmaltz, who was coming in with Ryan Dzingel on a 2-on-2 rush. Schmaltz expertly passed the puck over to Dzingel, who redirected the pass past Petr Mrázek and into the back of the net, giving the Coyotes the 2-1 lead.
When you're hot, you're hot. pic.twitter.com/nasKG16eG7— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) January 13, 2022
Toronto pushed hard and pulled their goaltender with over two and half minutes left in regulation, but they couldn’t solve Vejmelka again. They continued to pepper him, and for the third time this season, Vejmelka made at least 45 saves in a game. But Vejmelka played some of his best hockey, leading to a 2-1 Coyotes victory.
The Maple Leafs were a very dominant team, and if not for the play of Karel Vejmelka, this would have been a different game. However, that’s not to say the team in front of him was caught sleeping. Phil Kessel had a few choice looks against his former team, and Clayton Keller racing back to negate an icing call did a good job killing thirty seconds of 6-on-5 play.
Thanks to COVID-19 and injuries, the Coyotes were also playing with a very young blue line. Vladislav Kolyachonok made his NHL debut and had seven hits, and four of the Coyotes’ six defensemen have spent time in the AHL at some point this season.
- Karel Vejmelka - 45 saves on 46 shots
- Ryan Dzingel - 2 goals
- Auston Matthews - 1 goal
The Coyotes will be heading on the road to face off against the Colorado Avalanche this Friday at 7:00 pm for a back-to-back home-and-home.