In the course of the Arizona Coyotes recent four-game losing streak, captain Shane Doan said, upon more than one occasion, his team needs to find a high energy level.
Once discovered, it’s incumbent upon the players to maintain that high intensity, and follow up with execution. At a similar time, coach Dave Tippett stressed the “pace of the game” needs to at a competitive level, and that his Coyotes had to dictate the flow and temper of play. That did not happen in their previous encounters, but that all seem to change Saturday.
As if flipping a light switch, the Coyotes came out of the gate with a vengeance and carried play for most of this, the concluding game of a critical home stand. The result was a high-energy approach and a true sense of urgency that culminated in the Coyotes’ 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings before 14,195 in Gila River Arena. In that seven-game stand, the Coyotes went 3-3-1, and finished their home play on a confidence note.
With the victory, the Coyotes now roll out on a two-game road to Minnesota and Winnipeg. Then, the All-Star break. When the team returns to play on Feb. 2, they will have four of their next five at home. While the current seven-game ended with the Kings game and an overall 23-19-5 season mark, there is a chance for subsequent redemption on home ice.
As the Coyotes enter the stretch drive in February and March, the nature of the game changes. Players and coaches agree play tightens, and scoring chances become more difficult. For that reason, a sense of urgency becomes vital each time the Coyotes take the ice.
“We talked about the importance of this game,” said winger Jordan Martinook, who scored the game-winner on a back-hander 22 seconds into the third period. “We played with a lead, which was better, instead of trying to chase the game.”
On Saturday, that was evident. As the Coyotes tend to chase the game, as Tippett pointed out during their previous four-game losing streak, their purpose and resolve was evident from the start.
So direct was the Coyotes’ approach in the opening period that they held to the Kings to three shots on net. That equaled a season mark for fewest shots allowed in a period. That was achieved twice and, the latest was Dec. 8 at St. Louis.
Over the final two periods of play, the Coyotes’ energy level was sporadic, but saved their strongest play for the final minute of play. That’s when the line of Antoine Vermette at center, Boyd Gordon, on the right side, and Tobias Rieder, on the left side, completely controlled play. Their fore-checking kept the Kings contained in their own end, and the combination of strong play in the offense zone and two icing calls against the Kings, prevented L. A. goalie Jonathon Quick from leaving his crease.
“When you’re playing in a tight game, that’s the most fun,” said goalie Louis Domingue, who turned away 26 of 28 Los Angeles shots. “Their game is circling with the puck and I think we did a good job of taking them out of their game. I agree, that was probably the best minute or two we played all season there at the end of the game.”
The victory pulled Arizona into third place in the Pacific Division and tied the Coyotes with Vancouver with 51 points. Because the Coyotes have 23 wins to the Canucks’ 20 victories, Arizona is awarded the higher standing. The Coyotes trail San Jose by two points and the Kings by 10, and that’s with two games remaining before the All-Star break.
From this point, the road will get tougher, Tippett tells reporters. Should the Coyotes shake the cobwebs, skate to the maximum capacity of their game and continue strong fore-checking, the L. A. win Saturday night could be a microcosm of things to come.
Passing Into History
With his appearance Saturday, Doan past Luc Robitaille and Scott Mellanby (1,431) and tied Mike Gartner (1,432) for 25th on the NHL all-time list of games played.
At age 39, Doan is also in the middle of one of his most productive seasons. Scoring in the opening period against the Kings, the Arizona captain leads the team in home goals with 12, and has a team-leading nine, first period goals. His assist on Martinook’s game-winner moved Doan within four points of tying Dale Hawerchuk’s 929 points as the franchise point leader.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.