With nearly two weeks into the NHL season, there is little doubt the Arizona Coyotes have made several strides. In fact, this team had nowhere to go but rise from the ashes of a dreadful season a year ago.
Increased production in net from Mike Smith and needed energy supplied by rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have helped advance hopes. If the Coyotes are on their way to improvement, this team needs to complete an improvement cycle. That has to do with special teams. If what the Boston Bruins did to this team on Saturday is any indication, the Coyotes should be prepared to hit some roadblocks.
Three Bruins’ power plays on six attempts, plus a short-handed tally by Boston’s Brad Marchand early in the final period, doomed the Coyotes during a 5-3 defeat to the Bruins before 13,411 fans Saturday in Gila River Arena.
Coming into the game, the Coyotes were second in the league on the penalty kill and allowed one goal in 16 attempts. Yet, the Bruins, with speed and daring to the puck, capitalized on those six opportunities and cashed in on three with the man advantage.
“It is so hard to win in this league and you better not give a team any advantage,” said Kyle Chipchura, who tied the game with his first of the season mid-way through the final period. “If you give them chances, eventually this comes back to bite you.”
While the Coyotes showed resiliency in Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota at home, the same character surfaced against the Bruins. Down 3-1, they tied this one with goals from Tobias Rider on the power play and Chipchura’s tally at 7:21 of the final period. The Coyotes’ inability to kill off penalties to Martin Hanzal and Chipchura led to two third-period power-play goals from Patrice Bergeron and the end of a forgettable night.
“We have to improve on our execution,” said coach Dave Tippett afterward. “We didn’t handle the puck well and looked like we were batting tennis balls. Our penalty kill, up to this game, was good but we gave up too many chances (against the Bruins).”
If the Coyotes had difficulty keeping the puck out of their net short-handed, they continue to have issues with the man advantage. Coming into the Boston game, they were 1-for-21 on the power play and ranked 28th in the league. Despite Rieder’s goal with the man advantage that brought the Coyotes to within one at 3-2, the team needs to find ways to get the puck through to the net.
That was Tippett’s observation and echoed by Rieder, who scored his third of the season, and only the second by Arizona on the power play in five games to date.
“We have to get better puck movement,” said Rieder, who topped the Coyotes with six shots on goal. “Overall, we made too many mistakes and, again, we need to work on the power play.”
Despite issues with special teams, the Coyotes seemed to skate in quick sand most of the night. Not only did the Bruins constantly beat them to the puck but Boston’s speed through the neutral zone was evident. That allowed the Coyotes to surrender a season-high 43 shots on goal. At one point, the Bruins held a 24-8 advantage midway through the game.
“We turned the puck over too many times, and you can’t do that,” echoed captain Shane Doan, who chipped in with a three-point night. “We gave up too many opportunities and if not for the strong play of (Smith), this could have been a lot worse.”
After starting the season with three straight wins, the Coyotes dropped their last two and both on home ice. To address special team’s improvement and clean up faulty execution, this classroom now moves on the road. With their next five games against Eastern Conference teams, the Coyotes should know quickly if they grasp Tippett’s sense of urgency.
Some early math
With all the hype given to rookies Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel to rescue the Oilers and Sabres respectfully from recent doldrums, a pair of Coyotes rookies have pushed their cause to the forefront.
Through the opening five games, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair shoved Eichel, McDavid and the Canes’ Noah Hanifin to the back burner. Coming into play Saturday, Duclair and Domi were tied for the rookie scoring lead in the NHL, and each collected six points in their opening four games. By comparison, McDavid had one point, a goal, in his first four games and Eichel picked up two points, both goals, in his first five games.
Milestone Reached, Streak Extended
With his goal just over two minutes into the Boston game Saturday, Doan recorded his 900th NHL point. Doan’s breakdown includes 369 goals and 531 assists. For the game, Doan added two assists on goals from Rieder and Chipchura.
The achievement places Doan second all-time in points for the Winnipeg/Phoenix/Arizona franchise. He trails Dale Hawerchuk, who holds the record with 929 points.
With his appearance against the Bruins, Antoine Vermette skated in his 480th straight NHL game. That is the second-longest active streak. Andrew Cogliano of the Ducks is the current leader with 625 games. Anaheim did not play Saturday. Keith Yandle of the Rangers, with 474 straight games, is right behind Vermette. The Rangers were off Saturday.
Right-wing Joe Vitale, whom Tippett started on the left wing with Chipchura in the middle and Doan on the right wing, was taken to the hospital following a fight.
Early in the second period, Vitale dropped the gloves with Kevan Miller and skated to the penalty box with a towel affixed to his face.
After the game, Tippett said Vitale had x-rays and would be further evaluated. Tippett indicated Jordan Martinook, a healthy scratch against the Bruins, would be ready for the upcoming five-game road trip against the Devils, Rangers, Senators, Leafs and Bruins.
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.