A blown two-goal lead and a shootout loss in Edmonton. A blown late-lead in a loss in Calgary. A straight up win in Vancouver. Yeah. That’s how you pictured the Coyotes’ three-game trip through western Canada playing out, right?
“With the people we have out, we had to come in here (Vancouver) and manufacture a win and be opportunistic on our chances,” said coach Dave Tippett, referring to the absence of forwards Radim Vrbata, Martin Hanzal and defensemen Derek Morris and David Schlemko. “”We wanted to play on our toes. Everybody knows what happened last game. We played a real good third period in Calgary until the last couple minutes, so we wanted to carry it through tonight and we were able to do that.”
Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Canucks help ease the digestion of collapses in Edmonton and Calgary. It also salvaged the road trip with three points in three games — a fact that kept the Coyotes in a playoff position entering Wednesday’s play.
We talked recently about the need for secondary scoring. Phoenix got it on this trip. It should have been enough in Calgary, It was enough in Vancouver, with Kyle Chipchura scoring twice to total three goals for the trip and wing Paul Bissonnette notching an assist in his third straight game.
“Chipper’s been unbelievable of late,” said Phoenix forward Mikkel Boedker, who also scored. “We need that fourth line. We’re not a team that can rely on one or two guys.”
Phoenix also got a goal, an assist and wins on 15 of his 19 face-offs (78.9 percent) from center Antoine Vermette, one day after general manager Don Maloney singled out him and Shane Doan out as veterans from whom the Coyotes need more production.
If the Coyotes can get healthy this week and get Doan and snake-bitten forward Steve Sullivan rolling, there is opportunity to make some hay now. Starting with Thursday night’s game vs. Minnesota, Phoenix plays five of its next six games at home, including a bizarre, lockout-induced three-game set against Anaheim (two games in Glendale and one in southern California).
If the Coyotes entertain any thoughts of defending their Pacific Division title, those three games will be vital, since the Ducks already are skating away from the pack. Despite a 5-2 loss to the Kings on Monday, Anaheim has a five-point lead over second-place Dallas with three games in hand on the Stars and two games in hand on the Coyotes, who trail by six points.
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
2-5-1: That’s the Wild’s road record this season, a far cry from their 7-2-1 home record. Six of those eight road games have been decided by one goal.
2.06: Despite the offseason additions of Ryan Suter and Zack Parise, Minnesota is averaging a league low in goals per game. That number drops even further on the road, where the Wild are averaging 1.88 (15 in eight contests). The long and short of it is this: If the Coyotes reach three goals, they have an outstanding chance of wining. Minnesota has reached three goals just once in its last six road games.
13.8 percent: It’s not surprising for an offensively challenged team, but Minnesota’s power play ranks 26th in the NHL. That should be good news for a Coyotes penalty-killing unit that ranks eighth, killing off 84.8 percent of opponents’ chances
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Money well spent? The Wild added the two biggest free agents of the offseason in defenseman Ryan Suter and winger Zack Parise. Both signed 13-year, $98-million deals that were expected to put the Wild in the playoff hunt after missing the postseason four straight seasons. Minnesota also signed Zenon Konopka and Willie Mitchell to add toughness. Will it pay off in the long run? Entering Wednesday’s play, Minnesota was one point out of the Western Conference playoff picture in a 10th-place tie with Los Angeles. Suter had no goals and 11 assists in 18 games and only recently has started to look like the player GM Chuck Fletcher expected. Parise was tied for the team-lead in points (13) with Mikko Koivu and led the club with eight goals.
Picks to click: Coyotes forward Steve Sullivan has 27 points in 29 career games against the Wild; Shane Doan has 31 points in 44 games against Minnesota. Phoenix could really use some production from this pair. Sullivan is pointless in his last four games and has just two assists in his last 12 games. Doan has just two assists in his last six games and just four points (one goal) in his last 14 games.
Dump and chase: Minnesota fans have been vocal about their displeasure with the Wild’s system of dump and chase. Aside from the fact that most teams employ it, including last year’s final four, Star-Tribune beat writer Mike Russo points out that the dumping part hasn’t been the problem for Minnesota: “It’s the chasing. The problem is the team hasn’t done a consistent enough job with its forecheck to either get the puck back with proper placement or going to work once it gets the puck back behind the opposing D. It takes committed courage and effort and physicality to go get that puck and go to work with it.” INJURY REPORT
For the Wild, F Cal Clutterbuck (thigh contusion) is on injured reserve after an open-ice hit from Edmonton’s Taylor Hall that earned Hall a two-game suspension for kneeing. G Josh Harding is also on IR after experiencing sickness while taking new medications to treat multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed with the disease in the fall.
For the Coyotes, D David Schlemko (shoulder) is out indefinitely. D Derek Morris (upper body), F Radim Vrbata (lower body) and F Martin Hanzal (upper body) are day-to-day.