Shorthanded due to injuries, and just one game removed from losing All-Star Clayton Keller for the remainder of the season, the Arizona Coyotes looked to regroup against an Anaheim Ducks team that entered Friday night winless in its last 11 games.
The Ducks, however, took flight.
Anaheim used three first-period goals to chase goalie Karel Vejmelka early, Calder Trophy candidate Trevor Zegras dazzled with yet another highlight-reel goal, and Ducks goalie Anthony Stolarz was perfect in a 22-save shutout as the Coyotes lost 5-0 in front of 13,587 fans at Gila River Arena on Friday.
Arizona lost for the seventh time in eight games, falling to 21-42-5 on the season. Here’s three things we learned in Glendale on Friday.
Korenar Makes Second Appearance of 2021-22 Season
Coyotes goalie Josef Korenar has come in for relief duties twice this week, playing 20 minutes in the club’s 6-1 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday before entering Friday’s game against the Ducks midway through the first period. This time he played for almost the entire game, and made 26 saves on 28 shots.
The 24-year-old Czech goalie had played in just 11 career games prior to Friday, posting a 3-5 record with a 3.17 goals-against average (GAA) and .898 save percentage (SV%). His effort let Arizona hang around in the game, however, the team was never able to climb back into it.
Vejmelka struggled from the moment the puck dropped, allowing three goals on nine shots before being replaced by Korenar. The 25-year-old rookie was making his seventh-straight start, and was coming off a 39-save performance against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday. He was pulled after Zegras scored a lacrosse-style goal, his second such tally of the year.
Coach André Tourigny said after the game that the move was purely to try and shift momentum, and he didn’t think Vejmelka’s recent heavy workload played any part of the performance.
“We fell behind, it’s tough for us when we’re trailing, and I did want to try to create a little something,” he said. “They capitalized on their chances, obviously the third goal, there wasn’t much [Vejmelka] could do, but for us, it was more trying to create something.”
Injury-Depleted Roster Struggles to Keep Pace
Consider this: The Coyotes were without regular roster players Jakob Chychrun, Christian Fischer, J.J. Moser, Lawson Crouse, Antoine Roussel, Liam O’Brien, Andrew Ladd, and Keller, making the task at hand that much more difficult.
The reality for Arizona moving forward is that its roster will be anchored by a high number of young players, many of which are playing as NHL regulars for the first time in their careers.
“If you look, you can go, Dineen, Koly (Vladislav Kolyachonok), Carcs (Michael Carcone), Mace (Matias Maccelli), and Fash (Hudson Fasching), a lot of players who are either new on the team, or we need to create a new chemistry,” Tourigny said. “I guess it showed a little bit, tonight and lately, but we need to navigate through that and get better.
“Those guys have an opportunity, and it’s a good thing, but at the same time it’s pressure, and it’s an important part for them.”
On the flip side, Jay Beagle, a 638-game NHL veteran, picked a fight with Ducks forward Troy Terry with 5:37 left to play. The game was out of reach at that point, but Tourigny said he recognized the message that the 36-year-old Beagle was sending after he seemingly took issue with a few extra shots on Korenar after the whistle.
“I don’t see anything wrong,” he said. “It’s the reverse, I think we need to stand up for ourselves, and I like what he did. There’s a whack at our goalie, he had a presence there, and then he got jumped and he answered the bell.”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins, on the other hand, felt Terry — the Ducks’ leading scorer with 57 points in 64 games — was defenseless and not engaged before getting dropped to the ice.
“He’s cut wide open,” Eakins said. “He is basically defenseless, so I got to go check on him but, not a good sight.”
Coyotes Couldn’t Capitalize on Early Opportunities
The game got off to a rough start for the Coyotes, but they weren’t without early opportunities. Michael Carcone, playing in just his eighth NHL game, had two good opportunities, including a breakaway, but was turned aside by Stolarz.
“They gotta go [in],” Carcone said. “It changes the game for sure. It gives them momentum. No excuses, it’s just got to go in the net.”
“If we bury one or two of those, we’re coming back into the game, and it’s a different story from there,” he said. “We could not score, then they got the fourth one and now it’s become a monster.”
It was just one game, but Friday demonstrated just how much Keller means to the organization. Though there are only 14 games left in the Coyotes’ 2021-22 NHL season, there’s plenty of time for someone to step up and make the most of the chance in front of them.
“The good thing is, tomorrow is a new day,” Carcone said. “There’s another game coming up, and guys have an opportunity to step up here, and that’s just what we have to do.”
Arizona hits the road for Chicago and St. Louis before returning to Gila River Arena next Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.