Success for the Phoenix Coyotes usually comes from strong defensive positioning and all-out effort.
On a day when the Coyotes’ defense struggled – at least in their own end – Keith Yandle provided the necessary lift with a specular hustle play to set up the winning goal.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored on a power play in the third period after Yandle made a diving play to keep the puck in the zone, lifting the Coyotes to a 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
”I just went back to my Little League days. I played a pretty mean shortstop,” Yandle said. ”I was just trying to make a play, and I think we scored after it, so it worked out.”
The Coyotes needed effort like Yandle’s after a second straight sub-par defensive performance.
Phoenix got off to a sluggish start during a rare noon start, giving up a soft goal in the opening period. The Coyotes rallied with three goals against former teammate Jason LaBarbera in the first six minutes of the second period, but struggled again in their end to allow Edmonton to go ahead 4-3 early in the third.
Phoenix, second in the NHL in goals, rallied to win behind a strong offensive performance by their defensemen and Yandle’s hustle play.
Ekman-Larsson set up Yandle for the tying goal midway through the third with his second assist, then beat LaBarbera with a shot from the point after Yandle dove to keep the puck in Edmonton’s zone.
Michael Stone and David Schlemko also scored for the Coyotes, who had four goals and three assists from their defensemen. Martin Hanzal added his third goal in two games, and Radim Vrbata had three assists, but the defensive-minded Coyotes have allowed 11 goals and scored nine their past two games.
”We will rewrite history here,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said sarcastically. ”Our game’s not in very good shape right now. I love scoring goals, that’s great, but you can’t give up 4-5 goals a night. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Oilers coach Dallas Eakins felt the same way about his team.
Edmonton spread its scoring around, getting goals from Ryan Jones, David Perron, Will Acton and Tyler Pitlick, along with two assists from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The Oilers just weren’t particularly good in their end, deflecting two shots past their goalie and blowing a third-period lead after rallying from a two-goal deficit.
”It was an interesting game to say the least,” Eakins said. ”It’s getting disheartening to say, `I like most of our game, but we ended up short.’ Anytime you tip two pucks into your own net, that’s usually trouble.”
With neither team generating many good chances, Edmonton scored midway through the first period when Pitlick whiffed on a shot from along the right boards, quickly shot again, and slipped the puck between Mike Smith’s pads for his first NHL goal.
The Coyotes snapped to life at the start of the second period, scoring 47 seconds in, when a centering pass by Ekman-Larsson went off Hanzal’s right skate past LaBarbera.
That triggered a flurry of goals.
Stone scored his second of the season on a shot from the right circle that hit an Edmonton player. Schlemko followed up 27 seconds later with a shot from the left circle that also hit an Oilers player and went past LaBarbera for a 3-1 lead.
LaBarbera swatted the puck down the ice in disgust and was called off the ice, slamming his stick down as he went to the bench.
”I didn’t have a timeout, and I wanted to talk to our team, see if I could get them going back in the right direction,” Eakins said of taking out LaBarbera. ”It was more of a chance to let our team breathe a little bit.”
It worked, for a little while.
LaBarbera returned after 39 seconds, and the Oilers pulled within 3-2 when Ben Eager took a shot from the right circle, and Acton fought off a defender to punch the rebound between Smith’s pads. Edmonton tied it with 56 seconds left in the period on a nifty sequence of tic-tac-toe passing, Jeff Schultz to Jordan Eberle to Perron just outside the crease.
The Oilers kept up the pressure in the third and went up 4-3 midway through when Jones redirected Nugent-Hopkins’ shot from the point past Smith.
Phoenix answered a few minutes later with Yandle sending a shot from near the blue line that LaBarbera had trouble seeing through traffic on a power play.
Yandle made the play of the game after that, setting up Ekman-Larsson’s game-winner by laying out to stop the puck at the blue line.
”He looked like a soccer goalie there,” Ekman-Larsson said. ”It was a great play by Yanz.”
And it turned out to be just the play the Coyotes needed.
NOTES: This was the first of five games between the Oilers and Coyotes, who became division rivals after the NHL’s realignment. … Phoenix played without D Rustislav Klesla (lower body) and F Lauri Korpikoski (upper body). F Jeff Halpern didn’t return after sustaining an upper-body injury in the first period. … Edmonton F Ryan Smyth missed his third straight game with a groin injury.