It’s troubling enough to experience a challenging start to the season. It’s quite another to have key injuries pile on top of a tough beginning.
Nearly three weeks into the NHL season, that’s the dilemma facing the Arizona Coyotes. In concert with dropping six of their first nine games to open the campaign, the Coyotes were hit with a plethora of key injuries.
That’s not even considering reliable defenseman Michael Stone, out since last March with a torn ACL. The latest casualties include center Martin Hanzal and winger Tobias Rieder, who both went down this past Tuesday night and neither dressed for Thursday’s game. In addition to losing goalie Mike Smith with an injured knee, the expectation was that the Coyotes would elevate their collective game.
The result on Thursday night was an uneven experience, but the Coyotes will gladly accept the results. Powered by shootout goals from Anthony Duclair and Radim Vrbata, the Coyotes defeated the visiting Nashville Predators 3-2 before 10,745 fans at Gila River Arena. The win marked the first time this season that the team recorded back-to-back victories and did so because of stellar play from Louis Domingue, the Arizona goalie.
“We know we’re a good team,” Duclair told The Hockey Writers. “Maybe we were trying too hard, but once we stick to our game, we’ll be okay.”
With Hanzal and Rieder scratched, the Coyotes recalled Christian Dvorak from AHL Tucson, and the rookie made his presence known immediately.
Dvorak Makes an Immediate Contribution
Taking a pass at the blue line from Alex Goligoski, Dvorak smartly flipped a back-hander past Pekka Rinne at 9:17 of the opening frame and Arizona took a 1-0 advantage. At that point, it appeared the Coyotes could compensate for the injured players, but eventually fell behind 2-1. Only when Duclair flipped in the puck from the edge of the crease at 5:48 of the final period did the Coyotes experience an extra burst of energy, and eventually sent this one to a shootout.
After Dvorak made the final, 23-man roster, the native of Palos, Ill. managed to pick up one assist on opening night and recorded only two assists in his next six games. Sent to AHL Tucson on Oct. 31, Dvorak was recalled once team officials decided Hanzal could not play. In addition to his marker which put the Coyotes on the board, Dvorak assisted on Duclair’s game-tying goal.
“I’m just happy to contribute,” he said afterward. “After I was sent down, I think I had something to prove.”
Dvorak started the game as the Coyotes’ fourth line center between Lawson Crouse on the left wing and Ryan White on the right side. By the start of the second period, coach Dave Tippett moved Dvorak onto the same line as Duclair and placed Dylan Strome between Jamie McGinn and Vrbata.
“I was looking for some energy,” Tippett acknowledged. “(Duclair and Dvorak) were on a line against the Islanders (on Oct. 21), and worked well together. Could happen again, we’ll see.”
For now, the Coyotes hope the play of Duclair, who picked up his first goal of the season in game 10, and Dvorak’s energy will provide the kind of spark that will truly make the Coyotes competitive in a highly competitive Western Conference.
Some NHL History
Scoring in the shootout, Radim Vrbata tied the Red Wings’ Frans Nielson for the most shootout goals in NHL history. Vrbata is now 42-for-97 in shootout goals, and that’s a 43.3 percentage. He is ranked 12th all-time in shooting percentage with players who have taken 40 shots or more in their career.
Vrbata also holds the NHL record for the most shootout attempts in a season with 18 tries.
In the shootout Thursday against Rinne, Vrbata put in a backhander and that was after Duclair put his attempt behind Rinne. When Domingue stopped Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen in the shootout, the Coyotes tucked away their fourth win in 10 games.
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.