Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars seemed to follow an all-too-familiar script early on.
This time, though, the Arizona Coyotes were up to the task.
Led by forward Nick Schmaltz, the Coyotes used timely scoring, strong goaltending, and an all-around strong effort en route to a 3-1 win over the Stars on Sunday. The game started less than 24 hours after Saturday’s puck drop against the Los Angeles Kings, but ended with a much different outcome, and Arizona snapped a two-game losing streak in the process.
Here’s what we learned after Sunday’s win.
Nick Schmaltz Continued His Strong Play
Schmaltz had a rough start to the season, but he’s come on strong as of late, illustrated by his three-point game on Sunday. He assisted on the Coyotes’ first and third goals, while potting the team’s first power-play goal since Jan. 29, snapping the club’s 0-for-16 slump with the man advantage.
The goal proved to be the game winner, and highlighted the work the 25-year-old has put in to continuously improve this season.
“The biggest thing is just moving my feet, and letting my instincts take over,” Schmaltz said. “Me and [Keller] read off each other really well, and we do a lot of give-and-go hockey out there and create space for each other, and [Travis Boyd] does a good job getting pucks back, and he makes a lot of little plays that create more space for us as well.”
Schmaltz has come on strong as the season has worn on, and he now has seven points in his last six games.
“When [Schmaltz] is competitive, and [he] plays with urgency, he’s an elite player,” head coach André Tourigny said after the game. “He’s doing it with more consistency, he still needs to work on his consistency, tonight he was on … played huge minutes, scored a big goal, made a big play, he was pretty good.”
The Coyotes jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 10:13 of the second period after Schmaltz forced a turnover in the offensive zone and fed Lawson Crouse right in front of the net, who snuck it past Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger. The Stars responded just 57 seconds later, however, tying the game after forward Roope Hintz redirected a shot from Miro Heiskanen in front of goalie Scott Wedgewood.
That part of the game mirrored Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, when they responded just 12 seconds after the Coyotes took a 1-0 lead. On Sunday, however, Arizona responded, regained the lead, and weathered the Stars’ final push en route to their 13th win of the season.
“I think we were just simplifying a little bit, making sure we weren’t forcing anything,” Schmaltz said. “If there were plays to be made, we made them, but just keeping the puck in front of you, keeping your shifts short, and getting fresh guys on the ice, and obviously, like you said, [Wedgewood] coming up big with a couple of huge saves for us.”
Scott Wedgewood Was a Major Difference Maker
Wedgewood, meanwhile, made 32 saves, and won his second straight start despite going 19 days between appearances. The gap was due to an injury (concussion), as well as the All-Star/Olympic breaks, but nonetheless, the 29-year-old goalie made key save after key save on Sunday.
He helped the Coyotes defeat the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout in his last start, on Feb. 1.
“Gameplan wise, before the break, against Boston and Colorado, I’ve been playing the same way, changing things up, and it’s been working,” Wedgewood said. “I just kind of went back to the basics there, and I did the same thing tonight.”
Wedgewood has been a huge pickup since being claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils back in November, and with Carter Hutton reportedly being placed on waivers earlier in the day, he and Karel Vejmelka will continue to lead the team moving forward (barring a trade, of course).
His play on Saturday was nothing short of brilliant, stopping a talented Stars team in its tracks, despite a strong push in the third period.
“Wedgie’s a veteran, he’s been there before, and he’s been a backup in the league,” Tourigny said. “Often as a backup, you have a certain number of days between your starts, and you need to be on top of your game, so he’s a good pro. He takes care of himself, he works hard, we knew he would give us a chance to win, and he was really good.”
Special Teams Managed a Strong Showing
The Coyotes also won the special teams battle, notching the aforementioned power-play goal while also successfully killing both penalties they took in the game. Their games are often times dictated by their play on special teams, and, at least on Saturday, they passed with flying colors, starting with the penalty kill.
“I think our structure is better on the PK, but we still need to be a little bit better at finding a way to clear the puck, getting fresh legs on the ice,” Tourigny said. “When we do, it’s pretty good.”
On the power play, meanwhile, Tourigny said the Coyotes need to continually focus on registering quality shots, as opposed to trying to make the perfect play. That focus paid off Saturday, as Arizona was 1-for-3 with the man advantage, and had a number of quality scoring chances.
“It’s not about taking bad shots, but when we have traffic, more options around the net the puck has to get there,” he said. “When we have that mentality, that gives us confidence, because even when you don’t score, y ou finsih the power play, and can say ‘we had 3-4 shots, or looks during that power play, you feel good about yourselves.”
Forward Andrew Ladd played just 1:13 of the game before leaving with what Tourigny called a lower body injury after a collision at center ice. He skated gingerly off and went to the bench without putting much weight at all on his right leg, before ultimately going down the tunnel for evaluation, and did not return.
Arizona is back in action on Wednesday, and will face the Kings again for the second time in three games. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 pm MST.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.