GLENDALE, Ariz. — Whenever Coyotes coach Dave Tippett talks about Martin Hanzal, he notes just how many ways his big center impacts the game. But when you think of Hanzal, you don’t think point-a-game guy.
At least you didn’t until now.
Hanzal matched a career high with four points in Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Lightning, scoring a goal and adding three assists while continuing his season-long trend of parking in the offensive crease and screening goalies to distraction.
With Saturday’s performance, Hanzal has six goals and 18 points in 18 games, which is more than halfway to his career high of 35 points set in his rookie season in 2007-08.
“He’s our most valuable forward, and it’s not even close,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “He’s the guy that makes everything go for us up front, and tonight was a perfect example. He just does all the little things right.”
The Coyotes needed a big effort from Hanzal on Saturday with veteran defensemen Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek out of the lineup. The Phoenix defensive corps featured four players 24 or younger and Keith Yandle (27) as the elder statesman, as Tippett opted to go younger and faster in an attempt to defend less and try to limit the massive amount of shots the Coyotes had allowed over their past 10 games.
Hanzal helped matters greatly when he set up a screen on a first-period power play that Michael Stone used to put the Coyotes up 1-0 on a one-timer of a cross-ice feed from Mike Ribeiro. Hanzal got into the scoring action just 57 seconds later, when he banked a centering pass off Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop’s left skate, but his greatest contributions came in front of the goal.
“I’m trying to be better right in front of the net, just be in the way so the goalie can’t see,” Hanzal said. “It’s part of my job right now, so I’m trying to use my body and make sure I’m in the best spot.”
Hanzal was a prolific point producer in the minors. He had 26 goals and 85 points in 60 games with Red Deer of the WHL in 2006-07. For whatever reason, he hadn’t been able to translate that to the NHL until this season.
“Players mature, they find opportunities,” said Tippett, who joked that his team could have had two more goals if pucks hadn’t hit Hanzal in front. “We always talk about the guy in front has got to be a bad goalie. He wasn’t as bad tonight. He needed to be worse.”
It’s hard to imagine the Coyotes playing much better on home ice. Phoenix improved to 9-0-1 at home with Saturday’s win while handing Tampa Bay its first loss (7-1-0) against a Western Conference opponent this season.
The Coyotes even got NHL goal No. 1 from defenseman Connor Murphy, their 2012 first-round pick (20th overall) who was recalled Friday due to the injury issues on the blue line. Murphy blew a shot through another Hanzal screen to push the lead to 4-1 in the second period.
“Obviously you dream about that moment, and I haven’t actually scored a goal all year in the minors, so it was good to get it out of the way,” said Murphy, who admitted to a case of the jitters before the game. “Yands pulled me aside right before we went out and said in his first game, they lost 9-1. That kind of calmed me right away.”
The game got mildly interesting in the closing minutes when the Lightning’s Alex Killorn scored to slice the lead to 5-3. But Hanzal won a key defensive-zone faceoff to set up Lauri Korpikoski’s empty-net goal with 19 seconds left.
“You have to make sure you play better and better every single night and every single shift. That’s how the average players become great players,” Hanzal said. “Maybe that’s what’s happening with me this season; I don’t know. But that is what I want to be: a great player.”
LOOSE PUCKS: Defenseman Rusty Klesla was a healthy scratch Saturday after a minus-3 performance Thursday in Chicago. … Defensemen Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek both missed the game with lower body injuries. They are day to day. … The Coyotes will take two days off before resuming practice on Tuesday. The team doesn’t play again until Thursday against the surprising but recently slumping Colorado Avalanche. … Hanzal wasn’t the only player to tie career-highs in a statistical category. Linemate Radim Vrbata tied his career high with three assists and linemate Lauri Korpikoski had a goal and two assists to tie a career-high of three points.