The Arizona Coyotes returned to Glendale after completing a 1-3 east coast swing, welcoming the Boston Bruins to Gila River Arena on Friday night with the hopes of beating them for the first time since 2010. The game was close, but Boston ultimately capitalized on just enough of its opportunities to leave the desert with a 2-1 win, its 17th straight over Arizona.
The Coyotes, who had been outscored 17-6 during their three-game losing streak heading into Friday’s game, played well for long stretches while generating a number of quality scoring chances against Boston. Goalie Scott Wedgewood stood tall, stopping 35 shots, but the offense simply couldn’t cash in on enough of its opportunities to come away with a win.
Nick Schmaltz‘s presence, along with stellar play from Wedgewood, gave the Coyotes some things to build on following their less-than-stellar roadtrip.
Schmaltz is Heating Up, and Gostisbehere continues to Anchor the D
Schmaltz struggled for much of the season, compounded by the fact that he missed a significant amount of time with an injury. The 25-year-old center has found a groove as of late, however, having recorded five points over his last three games. In all, eight of his 15 points this season have come since the Coyotes’ Jan. 17 win over the Montreal Canadiens, which is a good sign for a team that continues to search for consistent offense.
“I think he’s playing with more, I don’t want to say grit, but a little bit more bite in his game, he’s played with a little bit more passion” head coach André Tourigny said of Schmaltz’s recent play. “He’s a good player, he’s skilled, he has good vision, he has good sense.”
Friday night’s game was a continuation of those efforts, as he scored the Coyotes’ only goal with just under two minutes left in the first period, tying the game just before the intermission. Shayne Gostisbehere, who continues to anchor Arizona’s defense, set the goal up after finding Schmaltz through a seam in Boston’s defense.
“I have a good shot, and I think if I pump fake, other things will open,” Gostisbehere said of the play. “I didn’t see [Schmaltz] initially, and when I walked to the middle I saw him –thankfully he’s a righty — so he can get off the shot pretty quick, and it was a great shot.”
Gostisbehere has been the picture of consistency since joining the Coyotes, and has an assist in each of his last three games. he’s currently tied with Phil Kessel for second on the team with 27 points, and has done everything the club could have possibly hoped he’d do this season.
Wedgewood Has Stabilized the Goalie Situation
Wedgewood, meanwhile, was stellar in net on Friday, stopping 35 of Boston’s 37 shots in the loss. One in particular stood out in the third period, after he made a sparkling glove save on Erik Haula to help keep the Coyotes within striking distance. Arizona had a number of chances following that save, but never capitalized.
When asked, Wedgewood shrugged it off as just another save.
“The puck went back up the middle, I just kind of slid over and took up as much net as I could, and the save was in my glove, and you’ve got to sell it sometimes,” he said with a smile. “When you’re falling forward, make it look a little bit more fun than it is, but that’s the fun part about being a goalie.”
It’s that down-to-earth mentality that has helped the Coyotes stabilize their situation in net this season, and Wedgewood has been a calming presence since being claimed off waivers by general manager Bill Armstrong. He’s helped rookie goalie Karel Vejmelka shake off a tough start to his NHL career, and though his 4-11-3 record, 3.37 goals-allowed average (GAA), and .896 save percentage (SV%) aren’t impressive on paper, his contributions go far beyond the stat sheet.
Friday’s game was just another example of fundamentals paying dividends, helping to keep the Coyotes in another game against a heavyweight opponent.
“I feel like I’ve tried to do a little bit much sometimes to kind of keep the team in the game, or do something big, and sometimes it burns you,” Wedgewood said. “I stayed in my lane tonight, and it felt good.”
Special Teams Struggle Again
Though the effort was sound throughout the game, Arizona’s penalty kill struggled yet again. The Coyotes allowed a power-play goal for the third straight game, and in all have allowed eight in their last seven games. The Bruins finished the night 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
The other side of special teams has not fared much better. The Coyotes posted yet another goose egg while on the power play, going 0-for-3 against the Bruins on Friday. They now have just three power-play goals dating back to Jan. 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks, though they created a number of opportunities on Friday, and just weren’t able to cash in.
Even so, Tourigny took a little solace in the team’s performance on Friday, and it’s something to build upon during the second half of the season.
“If you look at all the stats, who they are as a team, it’s tough to get a good offense going against them, and we did tonight,” Tourigny said. “That’s something to be proud of, but we have nothing to show for it, so it’s bittersweet.”
The Coyotes are back in action Saturday night, hosting the Buffalo Sabres at 7 pm.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.