OEL’s OT goal lifts Coyote to season-opening win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The kids are all right, but it’s the veterans who were the difference makers for the Arizona Coyotes in Saturday night’s season-opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Four rookies got significant ice time for the Coyotes, and Christian Dvorak and 18-year-old Jakob Chychrun each registered their first point while making their NHL debut, but once the Flyers had battled back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game, it was the old hands who stepped up and steered the Coyotes to a 4-3 overtime victory in front of a sellout crowd at Gila River Arena.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the game winner 3:12 into the overtime session, but he had a chance to win the game only because of the stellar play in net of Mike Smith, who made a number of point-blank saves in regulation and was under siege for almost the entire overtime session.

"He was great, he was incredible tonight. In overtime he was unbelievable," Shane Doan said. "We had a chance to win because he was incredible in overtime. Without that we don’t get a chance."

Coyotes 4, Flyers 3

Forty-year-old Doan was another of the veteran contributors, scoring Coyotes’ first goal while crashing the net on a power play. Brad Richardson contributed a short-handed score to make it 3-1 and Martin Hanzal scored the second goal, cleaning up a rush by Chychrun, and then assisted himself on Ekman-Larsson’s game winner.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said the game showed a lot of what the Coyotes can expect while breaking in so many young players.

"We’re going to have a lot of ups and downs like that, and it’s going to be fun," he said.

"We’re going to have to rely on everybody, that’s kind of who we are. It’s the first game of the year, there’s a lot of excitement in the game, lots of penalties, lots of emotion in the game. That’s where veteran players have been in that situation before. Whether it’s the first game of the 40th game, they react a little different. It’s great for our young players to go through that,"

That it was Ekman-Larsson who scored the game-winner was fitting and almost predictable. He had eight game-winning goals a year ago. On Saturday, he was on the ice for almost the entire overtime period, as the Coyotes were unable to make a change while the Flyers controlled the puck for more than two minutes straight. Then, after a quick breather, he was back on the ice — capping off a night in which he saw 31 minutes and 46 seconds of ice time.

"I was pretty tired. It felt like a lot of time, but obviously I want to be on the ice all the time, so I’m pretty happy with that," Ekman-Larsson said.

"He’s a great player, that’s what great players do," Tippett said. "He finds times to make an impact on the game."

Chychrun, making his debut at age 18, had quite the impact in his own right — showing off the ups and downs that Tippett was referring to. His strength and speed were on display in leading to Hanzal’s goal for a 2-1 lead, but then he got beat by Matt Read late in the third period to allow the Flyers to tie it up at 3. Finally, he had to be helped off the ice after jamming his ankle into the boards after a 1-on-1 race to chase down a loose puck.

"That was a whirlwind night for him," Tippett said. "It was like a kaleidoscope, each picture you got was different."

Chychrun said afterward that he was "all good" and didn’t expect to miss any time.

"It was great," Chychrun said. "I was really excited, got a little bit nervous, but that was expected. It’s good to get the first one out of the way."

And as for those ups and downs?

"It’s how you control the downs when something happens," he said. "You have to do everything you can to minimize the mistakes as well as you can throughout the game, and if something happens, you’ve got to stay positive and keep going at it."

UP NEXT

Arizona kicks off a six-game trip in Ottawa on Tuesday.

"I think it’s really good," Tippett said. "With as many young players, as many new players, it’s going to be a good test for us. We’re going to go into some buildings where we’re not going to have time to be young and inexperienced. We’re going to have to dig right in. We’ll throw guys in the fire a little bit and see how they react."