The Arizona Coyotes did a lot of the little things right against the New York Islanders on Saturday night. They cycled the puck effectively, limited turnovers in their own zone, passed the puck well, and coach André Tourigny even won a coaches’ challenge for goalie interference in the third period.
The result? A 3-0 loss, and a Coyotes team still searching for its first win of the 2021-22 season.
Arizona hasn’t had much luck go in its favor since kicking the season off, so Tourigny and his team could be forgiven if they took solace in their solid performance against a Stanley Cup contender. Though they were quick to acknowledge the improved play on Saturday, the team also refused to hang its hat on a losing effort.
Coyotes’ Offense Steps Up, But Fails to Score
Arizona came out of the gate with a sense of purpose, and raced out to a quick lead in the shots department, but was never able to get anything past Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin. Throughout the first two periods the Coyotes had long stretches of play in the offensive zone, passed well, and generated quality scoring chances.
On the other end, goalie Karel Vejmelka did just enough to keep the Coyotes in the game in his third NHL start, stopping 21-of-24 shots, though that point is somewhat moot considering the team failed to score. In all, Arizona has scored just once over its last two games, a troubling statistic considering the team’s upcoming six-game road trip includes stops at Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Carolina.
Forward Liam O’Brien was encouraged by the team’s performance on Saturday, and hopes they can build on the effort while on the road, regardless of the tall task in front of them.
“Of course it is frustrating, but we have to take all the positives out of this one and move on,” O’Brien said. “[We need to] move on really quickly [because] we have a big road trip. We are doing all the right things, and it is going to pay off.”
Tourigny lamented that the Coyotes didn’t get much puck luck in their most recent loss, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.
“It’s one of those nights I think we deserved better and something to show for, but we don’t.” he said. “I think at the end of the season that will balance out, but I’m proud of the focus and the way we played.”
Coyotes Are Generating Chances, But Need to Convert
Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of the Coyotes’ winless start to the 2021-22 season has been their inability to convert on the quality scoring chances that they work so hard to create. There were a number of opportunities in Saturday’s game, including a beautifully executed tic-tack-toe play that let to an opportunity right at the goal mouth, but each time Arizona was either unable to convert, or Sorokin was up to the task.
Heading into Saturday’s game, defenseman Conor Timmins said they were focusing on playing more of a team game, especially given how sound the Islanders are on defense. Considering that, the Coyotes executed their game plan very well, but still came up short.
“We knew we had to play a tight game, and like I said for the most part we did that,” Timmins said. “We just weren’t able to get the win.”
For what it’s worth, the effort caught the attention of Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who said after the game some timely saves from Sorokin helped New York keep the Coyotes at arm’s length all game.
“I give [Arizona] a lot of credit,” Trotz said. “They moved the puck very well. They didn’t give us much really in the game, but we were able to capitalize on some chances, and Ilya made a couple of key saves.”
Looking Ahead to a Lengthy Road Trip
The Coyotes now hit the road, and won’t return to Gila River arena until a Nov. 6 date with the Seattle Kraken. Until then, they have their work cut out for them, considering the aforementioned juggernauts who await. Rest assured it’ll take a complete 60-minute effort to hang with teams like the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes.
Even so, Tourigny said he doesn’t need to send any sort of messages to the team, because, well, they already know.
“We need to find another gear, we need to find solutions, be better, and win games, because we know with the way we play, if we find that next gear, we can win games,” Tourigny said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Arizona’s next game is against the Panthers on Monday night at 4 pm local time.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.