The Arizona Coyotes kicked off their preseason schedule Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, and, to be clear, there was plenty of rust to shake off. Consider this: The team was playing a new system, with a new coach, and a lot of new faces, and still came away with a 2-1 win.
Now that’s the way to kick off a season.
To be clear, there’s plenty that needs to be cleaned up, and obviously the roster is going to look very different when the regular season rolls around. That said, plenty of good was apparent in Monday’s game, but the true standout performances came from the penalty kill, the goaltending, and, of all things, the team’s fourth line.
Dylan Guenther, Loui Eriksson Dominate the Score Sheet
When the final horn sounded, the team’s entire offensive output came courtesy of one of the most seasoned veterans on the team, as well as one of the youngest — and wouldn’t you know it, they played on the same line together.
Eriksson, for his part, saw the most ice time of any Coyotes forward on Monday, logging 21:30 total time on ice while scoring on his only shot of the game. The goal was assisted by linemates Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Guenther, and may have been a relief for the 36-year-old, who’s hoping to jump-start his career after playing in just seven games for the Vancouver Canucks last season.
His goal at 14:40 of the second period tied the game at one apiece.
“I was real happy to be able to come here and get a chance to play, and show myself again,” Eriksson said after the game. “I’ve been working hard to get in shape and get better. I’m excited to be here, and show myself, and try to earn a spot here.”
Eriksson’s play certainly caught the attention of head coach André Tourigny.
“The way he played, the way he was positioned, the way he distributed the puck, and the way he played defensively was really solid,” he said. “Loui is one guy that stood out to me.”
The highly-touted Guenther, meanwhile, had already impressed during Rookie Development Camp and the Rookie Faceoff Tournament, and still couldn’t have had much of a better debut. In just 12:49 of ice time he notched one goal and one assist, recorded three shots, and finished plus-2 on the night.
His goal, which he buried from just outside the crease, gave Arizona the only lead it would need midway through the third period.
Sure, it’s early, but the Coyotes’ ninth overall draft pick from this past offseason is already making his presence felt. Not only did he score the game winner after a beautiful redirection in front by Liam O’Brien, but he was denied his second goal on a sparkling chance just a few minutes later.
“I saw a bunch of guys who worked really hard [tonight],” Tourigny said. “They battled. They had a purpose in what they were trying to do.”
Goaltending & Penalty Kill Stand Out
The Coyotes played two netminders Monday, as Josef Korenar played the first two periods after starting, and Anson Thornton pitched a third-period shutout to help the team protect the lead. The 23-year-old Korenar was 3-5 in 10 games (seven starts) with the San Jose Sharks last year, and looked impressive when Arizona needed him early on.
He stopped 18-of-19 shots through the first two periods.
“I was happy to play the game again after a couple months off,” Korenar said. “I think we played the right way, and everything went well. I’m glad we won, I felt good out there.”
18-year-old Anson Thornton was almost as busy in the third as Korenar was through the first two periods, but made key save after key save when it counted. He finished the game with 17 saves, meaning the tandem combined to stop 35-of-36 shots
“They were really solid,” Tourigny said of the duo’s performance on Monday. “[Thornton] adjusted really well and made a key save. He was tested, obviously we were protecting a lead, and he did a really good job.”
He had similar thoughts on Korenar, who compiled a .899 save percentage and 3.17 goals-against average with the Sharks last season.
“”He stood up big, and made big saves, Tourigny said. “We had a few breakdowns where we needed him to make a big save, and stand tall, and he did.”
The penalty kill was just as impressive, as the Coyotes killed all four of the Kings’ power plays. On the flip side, though, the team’s power play failed to yield a goal, though Arizona generated significant chances with the man advantage. It just never cashed in.
On Deck For the Coyotes
Up next, the Coyotes have an off day Tuesday before playing in Anaheim on Wednesday night. The team then returns home on Saturday for an afternoon game, also against the Anaheim Ducks, in their final preseason game at Gila River Arena before the regular season kicks off.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.