GLENDALE, Ariz. — With the Coyotes trailing 3-1 heading to the third period of Saturday’s game with the red-hot Capitals, assistant captain Keith Yandle delivered one of those impassioned intermission speeches that is sure to resonate throughout history.
“Yands said, ‘We can’t lose on bobblehead night,” according to goalie Mike Smith, who was the subject of said bobblehead. “So we went out there and responded.”
Clearly, it doesn’t take much to ignite the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena these days.
Lauri Korpikoski scored on a backhander while falling to his knees with 3:26 left in the third period, Shane Doan ripped the power-play equalizer from the left circle with 1:46 to play and Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker scored in a shootout as the Coyotes rallied from a two-goal third-period deficit for the third time this season to run their home record to a sparkling 8-0-1 with a 4-3 victory over the Capitals.
The loss snapped Washington’s four-game winning streak and gave Phoenix its fourth shootout win in its last five games.
“Another routine night,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett quipped. “It was a really weird game.”
How’s this for weird? Phoenix took nine penalties, giving the Capitals’ lethal and top-ranked power play seven chances and two goals. One of those penalties came on a delayed Washington penalty when Smith played the puck over the center red line while skating to the bench for an extra attacker, invoking a rare rule.
“It’s called delay of game, but I was keeping the play going,” Smith said with bewilderment. “I have never been called on it yet, (nor had) I even known the rule. I think they should change that one.”
One thing that has clearly changed this season is the Coyotes’ ability to overcome mistakes. Tippett had harped on the need to stay out of the box at practice on Friday, reasoning that he didn’t want to get into a special-teams war with the Capitals, who also sported the league’s top-ranked penalty-killing unit.
He also harped on the need for better puck management, which he assessed as “off and on” in Saturday’s game.
But the element that has changed dramatically for the Coyotes from past years is the consistent ability to generate offense. Following Saturday’s game, Phoenix was third in the NHL in goals scored with 60. That’s 3.33 goals per game (technically 3.11 due to extra time), an offensive clip that hasn’t been seen by this franchise since Dale Hawerchuk or Teemu Selanne playing for the Winnipeg Jets.
“I’m telling you, if you look at our back end with Yands and Oliver (Ekman-Larsson), they don’t get enough attention when people ask, ‘Why is this happening?'” said Doan, who has seven goals in his last eight games, just like Alex Ovechkin. “Our scoring late is a huge testimony to those two kind of being unleashed in the last 10 minutes of the game. Most of the goals are set up or created by them. They get the reins off of them and go get it.”
But is something being lost at the other end as a result?
Phoenix entered Saturday’s game having been outshot by nearly four shots a game while allowing 34.9 shots per contest, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you can’t sustain success with those numbers (Phoenix has allowed 56 goals). The shot disadvantage is a sure sign that the Coyotes’ possession game isn’t working and that the other team has the puck too much.
But how does Tippett convince his team that its bad habits are going to cost it when it keeps masking those habits with offense never before seen in these parts?
“There’s still lots of room for improvement, but finding ways to get points is a good sign,” he said. “Take the points and take Sunday off to think about it.”