Finally, a victory.
This is something relatively new for the Arizona Coyotes. This was a team which snapped a 10-game losing streak with a 3-2, shootout win over Vancouver Thursday night before 12,589 in Gila River Arena, and smiled for the first time in nearly a month.
The win marked the initial triumph for Arizona since the Coyotes gained a 3-2, OT win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Feb. 9.
Down 2-0 lead past the mid-way point of the final period, the Canucks scored twice on goals from Chris Higgins and former Coyote Radim Vrbata in the final eight minutes to force overtime. In the end, the Coyotes demonstrated a look into the future with their best game in several weeks.
After several trades and call-ups from the Coyotes AHL Portland Pirates affiliate, the composition of the team seem to change overnight. From a club laboring most of the time up the ice, the influx of younger talent increased the team speed, and made the Coyotes’ overall game clearly more effective.
“We want to play at the pace of the game,” said center Sam Gagner, who scored the only goal in the shootout. “With younger players and their enthusiasm comes a faster game. At the same time, we want to play intelligent hockey but establishing the pace of the game is important to us.”
The team speed was evident by the number of odd-man rushes. Throughout, the Coyotes had several 2-0n-1 and 3-on-2, and only the brilliant play of Vancouver goalie Eddie Lack, filling in for the injured Ryan Miller, keep the Coyotes from putting this out of reach.
While team speed translated into more opportunities and greater puck movement, Arizona coach Dave Tippett had a different take on events.
“I don’t think we saw greater team speed, but we want to be a team fast team,” he said. “I thought the defense moved the puck well, and that’s something we stress.”
The win also brought a sense of relief to a team in desperate straights.
“Yes, this was a great feeling,” Gagne added. “It’s a long time coming. With everything that was happening, even after the trade deadline, it’s a huge weight off of our shoulders. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”
The Coyotes get a chance to do just that on Saturday when the Montreal Canadiens make their only appearance in the desert. That is followed by consecutive home games against Nashville, Chicago and the Devils.
an honest voice
On Thursday night, the Coyotes wore their 1997 throw-back jerseys, and former Phoenix player Jeremy Roenick was on hand for the occasion.
As cheerful to the crowd and a warm greeting for Alice Cooper, also in the house, Roenick was equally honest on an assessment of his former team.
Coming into Tuesday’s game with Vancouver, the Coyotes dropped 10 straight and had not won a game at home in regulation since beating the Jets on Jan. 8. The losing streak tied a franchise record set when the team played in Winnipeg and relocated to Phoenix at the start of the 1996-97 season.
When asked how the Coyotes are holding up with a drastic losing streak, his response was direct, “lose.”
“Look, there is a great deal of pride in that locker room, but this team is gearing for the future,” Roenick said before the Coyotes took to the ice against Vancouver. “The draft coming up and it’s the deepest since Sidney Crosby. This team is a position to get a great player.”
The reference is to a pair of centers, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, slated to go one-two in this June’s draft.
Roenick, who played in parts of six seasons for the Coyotes, scored a career 513 goals in 1,363 NHL games. Though times are tough for the Coyotes, he pointed out, the current frustrating hour is about to change.
“I poured blood and sweat on that uniform and I feel for everyone in that (locker room),” he said. “It’s frustrating, sure, but you have to play through this. This team is set up well for the future and I see them being competitive in the short term.”
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.