Coming off their five-day break mandated by the NHL, the Arizona Coyotes appeared fresh of legs and renewed of purpose.
That was the assessment of coach Dave Tippett, who met with reporters after practice the day before competitive play resumed. The Coyotes then picked up their schedule at home game with the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night and came into play with three of a possible four points in their previous two games.
Their energy level was evident, and the will apparent. Still, and throughout the season, the lack of execution and turnovers clearly hurt this team. Against the Jets, clues to whether the Coyotes addressed these issues of execution and puck management were hardly hidden.
Despite a 4-3 victory over Winnipeg before 12,326 in Gila River Arena, the Coyotes failed to play a solid 60 minutes. Despite that high energy level for the first two periods, poor puck management and turnovers were repeated.
“We have to be smarter with the puck,” defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson told The Hockey Writers. “We’ve played well in the past four, five games and look to build on that. At the same time, our execution has to be better. We can’t turn the puck over and, like I said, need to be smarter with the puck.”
It’s About Time
The victory was the first for the Coyotes in regulation since a 4-1 win in Detroit on Dec. 13, and the first at home since a 4-1 triumph over Nashville on Dec. 10.
If there was one factor evident in the victory against the Jets, it was the Coyotes’ sense of urgency. Tippett referred to the moment as a sense “we’re here.” At the same time, he echoed Ekman-Larsson’s desire to play smarter with the disc.
“We need to do a better job of handling the puck,” he said. “I thought we moved the puck well and showed good energy (Friday night). I’ll take the win and move forward.”
In games this season, Arizona has had a tendency to fold early. That was especially true if their opponent scored in the opening minutes of the game. This time, the Coyotes responded to an early 1-0 Winnipeg lead with three goals within less than six minutes.
After Brendan Perlini added his second of the game at 14:44 of the opening period and boosted the Coyotes to a 4-1 advantage, the four team goals in the opening session was a season high. Previously, the Coyotes scored three in a period three times this season. Plus, the four goals in a period represented the most scored in a single session since they knocked in four against at Edmonton on Dec. 1, 2014.
The two goals for Perlini gave the rookie three in his last two games with Arizona and six this week. During the bye-week, the Coyotes sent Perlini to AHL Tucson, and he responded with a hat trick against Manitoba this past Tuesday night.
“I know why I drafted here,” Perlini said in reference to his scoring ability. “I’ve talked with (Tippett) about my game, how I can improve and realize I’m here for a reason.”
Perlini’s two goals against the Jets referenced his value. On the first one, he found a slight opening to the glove side of Connor Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg starting goalie, and drove the puck to the back of the net. On the second, Perlini knocked in his own rebound, and scored twice in less than 10 minutes.
“He’s a scorer, and creates opportunities,” said Tippett of Perlini. “That’s his role. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and finding ways to put the puck in the back of the net.”
Both Radim Vrbata and Ekman-Larsson tied their career-bests with three assists each in the Jets game…When Jamie McGinn scored in the opening period, that left the winger two goals short of 100 for his NHL career…The Coyotes moved to 8-0-2 this season when leading after two periods…With the win, goalie Mike Smith moves to within nine victories of Nikolai Khabibulin (126) for the third-most wins in franchise history.
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.