Friday marked the first game for the Arizona Coyotes in nearly a week, and though they played a relatively fundamentally sound game against the league-leading Florida Panthers they ultimately fell 3-1, allowing all three goals in the first period. The Coyotes have been wildly inconsistent throughout the season, but Friday’s loss offered some positives, despite the end result.
After a week’s worth of distractions off the ice, the Coyotes were able to just focus on hockey again. It wasn’t all good, but they have plenty to build upon heading into Saturday night’s matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Phil Kessel and the Coyotes Finally Scored on the Power Play
The Coyotes had not recorded a goal with the man advantage since Nov. 16 — and it felt markedly longer than that — but they broke through after Phil Kessel scored a goal on the team’s second power play of the night. The goal cut a 2-0 Panthers in half, but more importantly gave the Arizona, which owns the league’s worst power play, a shot in the arm.
“To get that goal early on, and to get us back in the game, that was huge,” said defenseman Dysin Mayo, who recorded 18:50 time on ice. “Even the rest of the power plays we had, we didn’t capitalize on, but just the emphasis on shooting the puck more, you could see that we were getting more chances out of it, so it was good to see.”
Arizona finished 1-for-5 with the man advantage, a step up considering its 11.86 conversion percentage heading into the game. Head coach André Tourigny said he was happy with how the team performed with the man advantage.
“We scored, and we created a lot of good chances off our power play,” he said. “We got good momentum.”
The Penalty Kill Continues to Struggle
On the flip side, the Coyotes’ penalty kill, which was ranked 29th in the league heading into Friday’s game, gave up yet another power-play goal, and it came at a rather inopportune time. Kessel had just made it a one-goal game minutes earlier, but Nick Schmaltz, playing in his first game since Oct. 25, took a penalty at 18:22 of the first period, and Florida capitalized after Sam Reinhart scored with just 24 seconds left in the frame to restore the two-goal lead.
It was a tough one for the Coyotes to stomach, and though they locked down and played well defensively the rest of the game, they were never able to cut back into the lead.
Penalties have been an issue for the Coyotes all season, and they once again came back to haunt them. Though Arizona went on to successfully kill every other penalty in the game, the damage had been done, and simply put, Florida’s offense is stout at even strength, let alone with the man advantage.
“We knew coming in that they’re one of the best teams in the league at 5-on-5, and I think we weren’t prepared to play right away, we were slow to start,” Mayo said. “After that I think we did a pretty good job the rest of the game, we just couldn’t get a goal.”
Schmaltz’s Return Highlights a Healing Team
The Coyotes had a laundry list of injuries at one point during the season, but are slowly rounding back into healthy form, and Schmaltz’s return to the lineup gave the team yet another spark. He admittedly needed to get his legs under him in his first game since late October — his last game played was also against the Panthers — but he looked comfortable on the right wing as the game wore on.
“It felt really good to be back out there,” he said. “It always sucks missing games, and I think the biggest thing is just timing. It took a little bit there, I kind of was lost for the first little bit.
“Just the speed of the game, you’re not used to it, even if you’re skating by yourself, you have to really get into a game situation before you can get that feel back.”
As the team continues to heal, it’s clear Touringy and his staff are progressing with installing a new system. That much was clear on Friday as after matching the Panthers’ shot output (23) while limiting the opportunities their offensive weapons had.
Perhaps most encouraging, though, was their crisp passing and offensive zone cycling.
“I think that’s the most offense we’ve created in terms of scoring chances in a long, long time,” Tourigny said. “That’s positive. On the downside, for sure, we want to results, but we played probably against the best team in the NHL tonight, and after the third goal they didn’t generate a lot.
“We played really well defensively, and we had our chances. Unfortunately it’s not enough, but there’s a positive in that game.”
The Coyotes finish back-to-back home games against the Flyers on Saturday night. Philadelphia will also be playing in the second of back-to-back games, having played in Vegas on Friday. Puck drop is at 7 pm.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.