The Arizona Coyotes returned home to Gila River Arena on Tuesday with a chance to sweep the season series against the Seattle Kraken, having taken the first two games earlier this season by a combined score of 10-6.
The Kraken, though, finally found some life in the desert.
Carson Soucy scored twice, Philip Grubauer stopped 24-of-26 shots, and Seattle topped Arizona 4-2 in front of 11,670 fans in Glendale. The loss was the Coyotes’ third straight, this after they had finished a previous roadtrip 5-1, and drops the club to 20-39-4 on the season.
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday night’s game.
Defensive Breakdowns Were Too Much to Overcome
Most of the action came in the second period, when the game’s first three goals came within a span of 1:02. Forward Nick Schmaltz notched a power-play goal 8:11 into the frame, burying a one-timer from the slot, courtesy of Clayton Keller. Seattle’s Carson Soucy evened the score just 18 seconds later, a frustrating trend that’s plagued the team all season long.
Coach André Tourigny didn’t mince words after the game.
“I saw a lack of fight, I saw a lack of soul a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think – we have a lot of frustration for whatever reason. We just have to regroup and push all together. We see a lot of frustration.”
In a refreshing change of pace, the Coyotes regained the lead almost immediately after Nick Ritchie scored on a breakaway, just 44 seconds later. Since arriving in the desert in February, the 26-year-old has exceeded expectations, and he has recorded six goals two assists in 12 games. He had just two goals with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 33 games this season.
Arizona’s offense dried up after that, however, and the Kraken took advantage of the Coyotes’ shorthanded blue line. Seattle used goals from Daniel Sprong, Soucy and Morgan Geekie to put the game away, and earn their first win over the Yotes in three tries.
Schmaltz Gets Back on the Scoreboard
Forward Nick Schmaltz hadn’t scored in two games, but got back on the scoreboard after opening the scoring Tuesday night. The 26-year-old has been on fire since January, and the two-game scoreless stretch was his longest since failing to record a point in consecutive games on Jan. 29 and Feb. 1.
His 43 points have the potential to become a career best, considering there are 20 games left in the season. His previous career highs are 52 (2017-18 with the Chicago Blackhawks) and 45 (2019-20 with Arizona). Schmaltz’s goal was set up by Clayton Keller, and the top line of Keller-Travis Boyd-Schmaltz has been difficult for opposing defenses to defend for the better part of the season.
That’s about all that went right for the Coyotes, though, as their defensive breakdowns proved to be too much to overcome. The season is a lesson for much of the club’s young roster, and the growing pains were evident on Tuesday.
“I know they’re trying hard, and it’s hard to come up here, and maybe you’re not playing the same system as you were down there and trying to get in, trying not to make a mistake,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said after the game. “They’re doing really good, too. Mistakes are going to happen, it’s part of the game.
“You know, I was in their shoes once before and it takes a long time to get comfortable in this league, if you ever do get comfortable. I think, for them, they’re doing a great job.”
Vejmelka Rewarded With 3-Year Contract
Goalie Karel Vejmelka stopped 35-of-39 shots on the night, and to be fair, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to save any of them. The 25-year-old Czech netminder had never played North American hockey prior to this season, and though it was surprising to some that he was named to Arizona’s roster at the beginning of the season, he immediately stepped in and showed he belonged.
Vejmelka was rewarded for his stellar season this year with a three-year, $8.175 million extension on Monday, with an annual cap hit of $2.725 million. Earlier this season he tied the NHL record, making 46 saves in his first career shutout.
The Coyotes hit the road for a three-game roadtrip, beginning at the Calgary Flames on Friday night. They then follow that up at the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers before returning home to fact the San Jose Sharks next Wednesday.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.