Coyotes’ Ekman-Larsson injured in listless loss to Columbus
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson suffered an upper-body injury in the first period of the team’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Jobing.com Arena. That simple fact overshadowed all else that transpired Thursday.
Columbus forward Derek MacKenzie drilled Ekman-Larsson from behind on what looked like an obvious boarding penalty in the neutral zone. Although referee Kelly Sutherland was looking right at the play, no penalty was called while teammate Keith Yandle came to Ekman-Larsson’s defense by engaging MacKenzie in a fight.
Ekman-Larsson appeared to hit both his head and shoulder against the boards and skated slowly to the team bench while slumped over. He headed straight for the training room and did not return.
Coach Dave Tippett said after the game that Ekman-Larsson "looked alright" and the team is terming him day to day. But when asked if he had concerns about Ekman-Larsson being out for an extended period of time, Tippett was less definitive.
"Not that I know of yet," Tippett said. "We’ll see. I haven’t really talked with him yet."
The Coyotes are already playing without captain Shane Doan and defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Losing the other half of their top defensive pairing for any period of time would be a big blow. Ekman-Larsson, considered a lock for the Swedish Olympic team, is the Coyotes’ leader in ice time per game at 25:11 and ranks 14th in the NHL in that department.
His exit forced Yandle to log a season-high 30:37 worth of ice time with the Coyotes down to five defensemen — and that came in spite of the fact that Yandle spent five minutes in the penalty box after his fight.
"(Oliver) got hit in Buffalo and we kind of talked about if a guy gets hit like that you’ve got to stick up for him," said Yandle, who was playing his first game since being snubbed by the U.S. Olympic team selection committee on Wednesday. "I’m not going to really beat anybody up but I thought I’d kind of stick up for him. I know he’d do the same for me."
Yandle’s fight represented what limited fire the Coyotes displayed on Thursday despite a crucial stretch of home games that gives them the opportunity to get back in contention for the top half of the Western Conference standings.
Columbus came into the game having scored just two power plays goals in its last 32 chances, but the Blue Jackets went 2 for 4 on Thursday against the Coyotes’ struggling penalty killing unit.
"We didn’t play well enough, we didn’t execute well enough, we didn’t compete hard enough," Tippett said. "I didn’t like a lot about our team tonight."
Former Coyotes prospect Curtis McElhinney made 34 saves in the Columbus goal, including 21 in the third period, for his fourth career shutout. McElhinney came to Columbus along with two draft picks in a 2012 deal that sent center Antoine Vermette to Phoenix. He improved to 7-7-1 and handed the Coyotes their first shutout this season.
The loss wasted a good bounce-back effort from goalie Mike Smith, who looked sharp in turning aside 29 shots.
"We didn’t manage the puck very well tonight and because of it we exerted a lot of energy chasing the puck back in our own end," Smith said. "You lose Ekman-Larsson early in the game like that and you turn pucks over, it puts a lot of stress on five defense.
"It wears on them and the outcome of the game is probably just the way it played out."