Vrbata breaks out in Coyotes’ critical victory
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dave Tippett has a simple means of measuring Radim Vrbata’s effectiveness.
"He’s a scorer," Tippett said. "When he scores, he has a good game."
Vrbata had a good game Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens — even if it was mostly coincidence that it came in fellow Czech Martin Erat’s first game in a Coyotes sweater.
Vrbata got the Coyotes going with the game’s first goal off a deflection, then added a critical second goal midway through the third period to re-establish a two-goal lead and solidify Phoenix’s 5-2 win over Montreal at Jobing.com Arena.
"These are desperate points for us before we go on the road," Tippett added. "We needed this win bad."
It was the Coyotes’ first win over Montreal since Dec. 9, 1998 (they were 0-9-2 against the Canadiens in that stretch). It also represented the most goals the Coyotes had scored since Jan. 7 against Calgary (six), helping Phoenix remain one point behind Dallas in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed.
"It was a fun game," Vrbata said of playing with Erat. "You could see there was some chemistry. Hopefully it will get even better, but I thought we (found) each other on the ice and created some chances."
Vrbata admitted that the chemistry would take a little time to build. Erat and Vrbata have played together in the World Championships for the Czech Republic, but that was a long time ago (2008). The duo also was without running mate and locker-room neighbor Martin Hanzal (lower-body injury), who is still out with a lower-body injury, although he is expected to make the team’s four-game road trip.
But Kyle Chipchura (two assists) filled in admirably for a night at center, leading Vrbata to joke that "it will be tough for Marty to get back (on the line)." And Erat brought exactly what Vrbata thought he would.
"He’s a smart player with the puck and he can make plays, so I tried to get open for him as much as I could," Vrbata said. "You could see those give-and-gos sometimes that we were kind of on the same page."
The Coyotes have been looking for a playmaking wing for Vrbata ever since Ray Whitney departed in free agency following the 2012 playoffs. Vrbata scored a career-high 35 goals in Whitney’s final season, but he only has 29 in the past two seasons combined (one of them the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season).
He’s been getting plenty of chances, but he has admitted frustration on several occasions that the puck wasn’t finding the net. He leads the team by a wide margin in shots with 211, but his shooting percentage had dipped below 8 percent before Thursday’s outburst.
Given Erat’s familiarity with the Coyotes’ system, he doesn’t believe it will take long to fit in and flourish on a line with his countrymen.
"They hold onto the pucks and they do a lot of work in the zone, and that’s where I’m most effective," Erat said. "It’s kind of like when you go to the national team. You have to switch in probably a couple days, but I’ve got maybe more of an advantage because I played a similar system in Nashville. It’s going to be an easier (transition) for me."