With arguably the best player for Montreal out of the lineup, the Arizona Coyotes took advantage.
The result was a healthy dose of goals, desperately needed goals, a strong boost of confidence for a team lacking self-esteem, and a couple of key standing points. With Montreal goalie Carey Price possibly out for the season with a knee injury that does not require surgery, the Canadiens looked lost, disorganized and disoriented. The Coyotes took full liberty, and skated off with a 6-2 victory before 14,338 Monday night in the Gila River Arena.
The six goals established a season best for Arizona, who previously scored five at home in a 7-5 defeat to the Blackhawks on Dec. 29. For the second straight home game, special teams play contributed to the victory. With the man advantage, the Coyotes went 2-for-4, and picked up important tallies from Anthony Duclair and Oliver Ekman-Larsson with Montreal short-handed.
That appeared to be an aberration because the Canadiens, prior to the game, were fourth in the NHL in killing penalties and tops in the league in that category on the road. Before the game, Montreal coach Michel Therrien told reporters a principal reason for the successful penalty killing effort was getting good reads. That did not quite work Monday night because Dulcair and Ekman-Larsson worked their magic with the man advantage.
The win was the second for the Coyotes in their last three games, and improved Arizona to 58 points. The victory pushed the Coyotes to within four points of Colorado and Nashville for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
At this point, dancing on the Stanley Cup bubble may start to creep into hearts and minds of the Coyotes. With a vital amount of ground still to traverse, the plan is to keep grinding away and pick up points at every turn.
“We know where we are in the standings, and we were ready,” said Martin Hanzal, who chipped in with a goal and two assists. “The special teams won this game. We were able to score when needed on the power play and the penalty killing was strong. The special teams were the difference.”
The effort was Hanzal’s second, 3-point night of the season. On Oct. 14, he picked three assists in a game at Anaheim.
The offense was powered by players who are expected to step up their game and provide needed leadership. Coach Dave Tippett continues to push veterans and urge team leaders to be leaders.
That dimension came to the fore against Montreal. That’s when Ekman-Larsson chipped in with a goal and two assists, Hanzal made his important contribution, and Duclair added a key power play goal. In all, 13 different Coyotes picked up at least one point, and Ekman-Larsson and Hanzal lead with three points each.
After a sluggish start to this game and the teams trading early first period goals, Duclair took a rink-wide pass from Ekman-Larsson to the right of Mike Condon, the Montreal goalie, and converted the assist into his 16th tally of the season at 15:48 of the opening period. This first of two Arizona power plays pushed the Coyotes into a lead they did not relinquish.
“I thought Ducalir’s goal got us going, and I liked the way we pushed back,” said Tippett afterward. “We stressed the need to play sound hockey and do things right in the third period. And, we did that.”
Duclair picked up his third, 3-point night of the season, and the first since he scored a goal and added two assists against Minnesota on Dec 11. Not only was the rookie from Pointe-Claire, Que. able to make a vital contribution, but Ducalir has now picked up points in three of his last four games.
“It was special to play against Montreal, and that’s my home town team,” Duclair said. “I didn’t see them much in person because it’s so tough to get tickets. (Against Montreal), this was a big game and we’re pushing for a playoff spot. We played a solid 60-minutes, and we need to continue to play that way.”
With four points in their last three games, there may slight movement on the Coyotes’ life support monitor. Now, the immediate challenge is the Stars this Thursday night and the Blues on Saturday, both at home. As if no one needs to remind them, the Coyotes now face these teams directly on top of the Central Division. The quest is on to maintain the momentum and confidence built over the past few games.
Change In Goal
Arizona’s back-up goalie Anders Lindback suffered what the Coyotes are calling a serious lower back injury. While the exact nature of the injury was not disclosed, Lindback, who is 5-7-1 and 3.11 goals against average in 19 appearances, will be examined Tuesday. He suffered the injury just before the Coyotes were to take the ice for pre-game warm-ups.
The back-up for Louis Domingue against Montreal was called at the last minute and Nathan Schoenfeld, son of former NHL defenseman Jim Schoenfeld, sped across Phoenix-area freeways to Gila River Arena, and answered the challenge. Admitting he last played competitively for Arizona State University in 2006, Schoenfeld said he was helping his wife bathe their 5-week old twin boys when he received the call.
“I told her, ‘I gotta go,’ and they need help,” he said. “My wife looked at me, startled and said she needed help. I told her to call her mother because I had to leave immediately,”
Schoenfeld, who works for a bank and had the day off because of Presidents Day in the United States, lives about 30 minutes from the arena. He arrived about a half-hour before game time, and did manage to skate a few loops around the rink.
“He is not a stranger around here,” said Tippett. “He skates with the team in the summer and knows all the guys. So, it’s not much different, but you can see there’s a little kid in him coming out.”
The NHL requires each team to have at least one goalie on an emergency list and in the local market. So, Schoenfeld was the closest and most convenient to reach.
To replace Lindback, the Coyotes are likely to recall 24-year-old Niklas Treutle, a native of Nuremberg, Germany from the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. In 26 games with the Falcons this season, Treutle is 9-11-3, two shutouts and a 2.91 goals against average.
At the same time, Tippett said injured Mike Smith, out since Dec. 8 with stomach surgery, is far from ready to step, competitively, into the crease.
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.