For the Arizona Coyotes, this was a night to celebrate small numbers. At first, that’s the way things began in the Gila River Arena, but the number which all teams desire for their opponents, zero, became elusive. Still, the Coyotes were happy to settle for a number slightly higher.
That would be the number two — as in two goals allowed by the Coyotes goalkeeper, Mike Smith, and two points in the standings. In the process, Smith returned to the Gila River Arena ice for the first time since opening night on Oct. 15, and guided the Coyotes to 3-2 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks before 13,184 on Saturday.
“Mike Smith was the reason why we won,” coach Dave Tippett point-blank told The Hockey Writers. “We picked up the two points and chalk that up to (Smith). Now, we’ll move forward.”
Smith’s performance turned the clock back to the 2011-12 season when the 34-year-old netminder led the Coyotes into the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
This time, Smith was especially sharp in the opening period. That’s when the Sharks out-shot the Coyotes 17-4 and gained a large territorial edge. In making a firm statement, Smith wanted it known he’s back in full force from a knee injury that sidelined the native of Kingston, Ont. from opening night to this this past Thursday.
“(San Jose) has smart, veteran players, and you have to be sharp on every play,” Smith said. “I have to make the save my teammates expect me to make.”
Preparing for a Veteran Team
In the first period alone, Smith turned away a constant barrage of rubber coming from all angles. Only Sharks’ defenseman Brenden Dillon and winger Mikkel Boedker did not record at least one shot on net. Joe Pavelski, who scored the Sharks’ first goal of the game, topped San Jose with seven shots on net.
Given the depth and veteran stature of the Sharks, Smith said he expected San Jose to have a big opening period. With the Sharks dominating the play and several younger Coyotes unable to match the effort, Smith was left without a viable defense.
After Tobias Rieder gave the Coyotes an early 1-0 lead 1:55 into the game, the Sharks then seem to tilt the rink. At one point, San Jose out-shot Arizona, 12-3 with just seven minutes remaining in the opening period.
“In the first period, just a few guys were working hard, and it showed” said Martin Hanzal, who collected the game-winner on a tip-in at 1:16 of the overtime. “That was not a good start, but we’ll take the two points. We have to be a lot better.”
According to Hanzal, there is only one way the Coyotes need to play, and be successful.
“If we get the puck in deep and go after it, we’ll be all right,” he said. “We need to play the right way.”
If the Coyotes were cognizant of small numbers, then the team would have to be satisfied with zero. That’s the number of power play goals allowed to the Sharks.
Coming into this game, the Coyotes were 28th in the NHL in penalty killing, and allowed 12 goals in 48 chances. Against Arizona, the Sharks went 0-for-3 while the Coyotes, 24th in the NHL with the man advantage, went 1-for-3 — that included Max Domi’s second of the season on the power play at 7:53 of the second period.
For now, the Coyotes move to within one point of idle Calgary (Saturday) for sixth place in the Pacific Division. Their string of eight straight games against Pacific Division opponents continues Wednesday night at home against Vancouver.
For The Record Book
With four shots on net during the opening period, the Coyotes equaled a season low.
After Tobias Rieder scored just 1:55 into the opening session, Arizona managed only three shots on San Jose goalie Martin Jones for the remainder of the period. That tied the lowest shot total of the season for the fourth time, and last set against at Anaheim on Nov. 4.
Elsewhere on Saturday: With an assist on Martin Hazal’s game-winner in overtime, Radim Vrbata became the 16th player to reach 300 points with the Coyotes in franchise history. Vrbata has also played for Colorado, Carolina, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Vancouver.
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.