Coyotes power up to beat Blue Jackets
GLENDALE — The Andrew Barroway Era could have not started with more flair.
The Coyotes scored six goals, one short of their season high, and played most of the game in the Columbus end while running up a 6-3 victory over the Blue Jackets on Saturday night at Gila River Arena.
The Coyotes threw pucks, and bodies, at Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky all night, and all of their goals coming from whispering distance in front of the net.
The Coyotes went into the game wanting to put traffic in front of Bobrovsky. They made it look like rush hour.
Right wing Sam Gagner had two goals and center Martin Hanzal had a goal and three assists, tying a career high with four points. The Coyotes scored a season-high three power play goals while winning for the fourth time in five games.
"When a goalie is playing really well, you have to find ways to get people in front of him and create rebounds and second chances, and I thought we did a good job of that, especially on the power play," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said.
The Gagner-Hanzal-Martin Erat line, also together on the power play, had eight points. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, right wing Tobias Rieder and right wing Kyle Chipchura had a goal and an assist, and defenseman Keith Yandle had two assists.
"We talk a lot about getting pucks to the net and getting bodies there," said Gagner, who has four goals in his last five games. "We have some of the best ‘D’ in the league in getting pucks through, and we have to find a way to get rebounds and second-chance opportunities.
"I thought our power play did a really good job tonight. Even if we weren’t scoring we were creating momentum and we were getting shots to the net and creating second chances."
The Coyotes (15-19-4) turned a 2-1 deficit into a 6-2 lead with five straight goals in an 18-minute, 30-second span that started with Ekman-Larsson’s goal at 6:33 of the second period. Bobrovsky stopped a Hanzal shot from point-blank range but left the puck in the crease. Ekman-Larsson charged in to push the puck in, and he followed it into the net.
"I drove at it pretty hard," said Ekman-Larsson, who leads NHL defensemen with six power play goals. "I should get two goals for that one."
Gagner and Hanzal scored in the final 90 seconds of the second period for a 4-2 lead, and Chipchura and Gagner again put the game out of reach in the first 5:03 of the third period.
At the other end of the rink, Mike Smith made his first start since Dec. 22 and his second since Dec. 11, and the results were promising. He gave up two goals before the Blue Jackets scored in the final minute, and he made several strong saves when the game was tied at 2 for most of the second period.
"2015 has been a good year so far," Smith said, tongue-in-cheek. "I understand where I have been and where I have to go. It’s just one game."
Smith, the key in the Coyotes’ run to the 2012 Western Conference finals, got his first victory since Dec. 1. Devan Dubnyk had started seven of the previous eight games, but the Coyotes will give Smith every opportunity to regain the starting position as the season continues.
"I felt at ease going into the game," Smith said. "I felt like I prepared. Mentally, I felt I was ready to get back in there. No issues. A couple of goals were a little jumpy, but that’s just from not playing. I just tried to stay relaxed and go with the flow of the game. I have a lot of confidence in my ability. Mentally I just have to be sharp."
The Coyotes looked sharp in the first game of their season-long six game homestand, and they could have glanced left at the Columbus bench to understand that there is enough time to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture if they push hard enough. Columbus was 10-1-1 in December, getting back to .500 before the Coyotes knocked them one game back.
"We did a real good job of making it hard on them," Gagner said, "and that’s what we have to do to be successful, I think. If we play that way every night and make sure we are making it hard on teams, it is going to make it easier for us. We just have to keep clawing our way back into things."