GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last time the Phoenix Coyotes won back-to-back games was Dec. 10 and 12. The last time goalie Mike Smith won back-to-back games was Nov. 9 and 12. The last time the Coyotes blocked at least 25 shots (Saturday’s total) in a game was Nov. 2.
We’ll stop there. You get the point, which is that the Coyotes got two points courtesy of Saturday’s 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at Jobing.com Arena. It was Phoenix’s second straight win.
"That was a big two points," said defenseman Keith Yandle, who had a big hand in earning them with two assists, a goal-saving play, two blocked shots and zero turnovers.
Phoenix got a power-play goal for the seventh straight game (halfway to the franchise record), Smith turned aside 33 shots to give him 74 saves on 78 shots in his last three games, and center Martin Hanzal had a goal and an assist to lead another strong effort for the Coyotes, who owned two of the game’s three periods.
Even Jeff Halpern got in on the act, scoring his second goal of the season, which would have been his first game-winning goal since Feb. 25, 2012, had Devils forward Jaromir Jagr not scored a late goal to make things interesting.
"If you’re going to win in this league, you need that (gritty play) every night," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who recorded his 450th career victory and his 100th home victory in Glendale. "It was nice to see us come through with a couple wins like that."
Is it a sign that the Coyotes are finally turning the corner? Is it a sign that they are finally heeding all those caution flags Tippett has been flying all season, win or lose, to note the myriad problems in their game?
Maybe. The Coyotes held an opponent to two goals or fewer for the third straight game. They missed a season high in blocked shots by just one. They turned the puck over just five times and they made simple, smart plays when they had the lead.
"One of our key points coming in was getting off to a fast start, and I felt like we did a good job doing that," said forward Jordan Szwarz, who had the opening goal and finished the game despite suffering a bad cut on his chin from Red Boucher’s skate late in the second period. "We put a lot of pucks behind their defense and we were able to block some shots early to get off to a good start, then finish it off."
It’s tough to make up ground in the Western Conference. The top six teams are looking almost impossible to catch, and the Wild and Canucks both won Saturday to remain four points ahead of the Coyotes. But right now, the focus is inward, and that is as it should be for a team that still needs to establish an identity.
"The most important thing is we have two wins in a row," Hanzal said. "We’ve got some confidence. We have to build on this."