In Early Games, Coyotes Show Character

If there is one variable that could characterize the Arizona Coyotes going forward, this may be resiliency.

Even before the season began, players vowed to be, in their collective consensus, the hardest working team in the NHL. In concert, goalie Mike Smith put opposing teams on notice that this version of the Coyotes is far different than the contingent of a year ago. That’s when the Coyotes finished with the second-to-worst record in the league and suffered a 50 loss season. Now, Smith and his teammates pledge, when the opposition skates into the Gila River Arena or when Arizona is the visitor, do not expect two gift points.

Though down by three goals past the mid-way point of Thursday’s home game with Minnesota, the Coyotes clawed back with two tallies and nearly sent this one into overtime. Despite a 4-3 defeat to the Wild, their first loss after winning their opening three contests, the Coyotes proved to be a resourceful team with a fiery dose of resiliency.

Just the influx of Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, two players whom coach Dave Tippett call “opportunistic” makes this team better. If anything is evident through the opening four games, it is the quickness of Domi around he net and Duclair usually seems to be at the right place at the right time. Add the health, having recovered from off-season back surgery, and strength around the crease from center Martin Hanzal, this line clearly complements the dynamism from each player.

With a hat-trick Wednesday night against the Ducks and goal which put the Coyotes to within two early in the second period against Minnesota Thursday night, Duclair’s ability to find an opening, any opening, continues to draw raves.

“Both Domi and Duclair are doing their jobs and I’s like to see other guys chip in,” Tippett said after Thursday’s game. “Both Domi and Duclair are opportunistic and it was too bad we get the tying one.”

Still, the feeling in the dressing room afterward was not one of despair. After all, recent Coyotes fortunes had enough of that but the spirit, going forward, represents a clear change from the past.

Down 4-1 past the mid-way through Thursday’s game, goals from Domi with 10 second left in the second period and defenseman Michael Stone’s first of the season at 15:12 of the third period brought the Coyotes to the precipice.

“What we did in the third period showed the character of this team,” said Duclair. “We learned to pump up the pressure. We keep it simple, short trips and get the puck in the zone.”

Anthony Duclair [photo: David Chan]
Anthony Duclair [photo: David Chan]
When he talked about the current state of the team, Domi went a step future.

“We don’t give up and that’s the positive from this game,” he said. “We came out flat, but the way we came shows the character of this team.”

There’s that word “character,” again and something clearly absent from the recent past. In fact, this team was in such despair that intangibles like character, strength, spirit and make-up were clearly absent. Now, these elements have crept back into the Coyotes’ vocabulary and the energy infused from Domi, Duclair, Mikkel Boedker and Tobias Rieder, along with strong play at the blue line from Nicklas Grossman, Zbynek Michalek and Connor Murphy should keep those words burning on the dressing room walls.

Coyotes Notebook

With two goals allowed in his opening three games, Mike Smith started both ends of the two opening back-to-back games. With a 0.67 goals against average coming into the Minnesota game, Smith surrendered tallies to Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu in the first 27 minutes of play and was replaced with Andres Lindback, who allowed one goal over his 33 minutes of playing time.

“Though he got a shut out (Wednesday night against the Ducks), he did not get a lot of work,” said Tippett. “After the first period, we talked if we got behind by three, (Smith) would get a rest. At this point, this team is tired and we need some rest.”

With his goal, Duclair has four on the season and combined with two assists, his six points leads all NHL rookies. With an assist on Domi’s goal at 19:50 of the second period, Hanzal has seven assists to tie for the NHL lead with the Senators’ Erik Karlsson. Coming into play Thursday night, Karlsson had seven but Ottawa was shut out by the Penguins and Hanzal picked up one helper.

In the second period, Antoine Vermette left the game with what the Coyotes called a lower body injury. After the game, Tippett did not speak about the injury, only to say, “he’s fine.  Nothing serious, and he’s day-to-day.”

The Coyotes conclude a brief two-game home stand Saturday against Boston. Then head out on a five game Eastern swing to play the Devils, Rangers, Senators, Leafs and Bruins. They return home Oct 30 to face Vancouver.