GLENDALE, Ariz. — Shane Doan would garner a lot of votes if the league’s players were ever asked to crown the NHL’s best captain. But how do you measure such an honor? Maybe the answer is found in Doan’s deep bag of leadership tricks.
Faced with the challenge of prodding gentle, humble, deferential Mikkel Boedker to greater heights, Doan took an unorthodox path to persuasion.
“I teased him that I’d slash him if he passed me the puck,” Doan said. “He’s so good with it that I wanted him to hold onto it and I meant it. He’s the best player on the ice when he has the puck.”
Faced with a four-game pointless streak, Boedker took that message to heart Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings. The 23-year-old Dane scored the Coyotes’ first and third goals in a critical 5-2 win that pushed Phoenix into sixth place in the ever-changing Western Conference standings.
The two-goal game was the third of Boedker’s career and highlighted that ability Doan mentioned.
“I thought he created a lot of situations in the offensive zone,” coach Dave Tippett said. “That’s as good a game as he’s played in a while.”
When the season opened, the Coyotes had high hopes for Boedker. Following Ray Whitney’s free-agent defection to the Dallas Stars, a team not blessed with a wealth of offensive forwards was suddenly blessed with less. Of all the young players on the roster, Boedker held the most promise to fill the gap, but he had never posted more than 28 points in two full NHL seasons and two partial seasons.
Through the early portion of the schedule, he looked poised to deliver, and general manager Don Maloney even singled him out as one of the team’s most consistent players. But there have been lapses in his defensive game and stretches where he’s failed to exert his will at the offensive end.
“There’s times when, timing-wise, he feels like he’s going one way and the puck is going the other,” coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s just got to find a way to get in sync with the game.
“He has the ability to hold pucks. He changes direction well, he’s got skill, (he’s a) powerful skater. When he gets it, we just talked about: ‘don’t give it away so easy. Let’s see what happens when you keep it for a while.’ Tonight he kept it and good things happened.”
Boedker leads the team with 18 points (six goals). He’s not the point-a-game performer this team could really use, and he’s not among the NHL leaders in any offensive category, but his confidence does appear to be surging following a strong playoff performance last season in which he notched four goals (two game-winners) and eight points in the team’s run to the conference finals.
“It did a lot for me,” Boedker said. “I know I can compete at the best level in the world and I can have an impact on a successful team. But obviously, taking the next step is important and I feel like I’m taking a good step in that direction.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time. The Coyotes needed a statement win on Tuesday. Never mind that L.A. knocked the Coyotes out in the Western Conference final last year. Never mind that the Kings are a division foe, making these games doubly important in the standings. Phoenix plays 14 of its final 22 games on the road, including a back-to-back set with these Kings next week at Staples Center. Two points in this game — and none for L.A. — was the only acceptable outcome for a team that was outside of the playoff ropes when the night began.
“Last year is over with,” Boedker said. “But it’s always good to beat a rival and it’s always good to beat L.A.”
To have Boedker spearheading that victory with his speed and skill was a good sign for a team hoping to build off last season’s unprecedented success.
“It’s kind of like playing off your fastball,” Doan said. “He plays off of his speed and because of that it makes it so you have to respect him and it gives him open ice.
“He’s just a dominating player when he’s moving his feet and shooting the puck like that. We all love playing with him.”