Coyotes, Avalanche to wrap up home-and-home
When teams have a home-and-home matchup, it usually occurs on consecutive nights or, at most, two nights apart.
Thanks to the NHL’s annual Christmas break, the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes will complete the two-game set in four days.
The Avalanche (17-15-3) beat the Coyotes 6-2 in Arizona on Saturday night before the league went on its three-day hiatus. It’s written into the collective bargaining agreement, and no roster moves or trades can be made from Dec. 24-26 to allow players to relax over the holiday.
Now that it’s over, the Coyotes are looking for a payback after Colorado knocked them around on their home ice. The blowout win was full of rough play and fights, and it could lead to the suspension of Arizona forward Zac Rinaldo.
Rinaldo was given a match penalty for his punch to the face of Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard in the second period. Girard skated toward Rinaldo after he leveled Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon with a clean hit, and Rinaldo reacted to Girard’s presence with a punch.
Rinaldo was offered an in-person meeting with league officials, but he waived it and will have a phone hearing with the department of player safety on Wednesday.
Girard’s willingness to stick up for his teammate earned him praise from fellow defenseman Erik Johnson.
“Any time your best players stick up for one another I think it goes a long way in the locker room,” Johnson told reporters after the game. “It’s the things you do on the ice to back each other up when things happen that you don’t think are right. We stepped up as a group after that. There was a bit of a hit and then (Girard) went over to (Rinaldo) and then he suckered him and I flew in and took care of it.
“You don’t want to see that. I don’t think Girard is going over there to try and fight him, he’s just going over there to give him a bump and he suckered him.”
Girard was fine but another Colorado defenseman, Tyson Barrie, is not. He suffered a broken bone in his right hand when he blocked a shot during the first period of Saturday night’s game. Because the Avalanche have not had any media availability, the severity and the length of his absence has not been announced.
For perspective, Colorado forward J.T. Compher missed six games earlier this season with a broken thumb.
The Coyotes (8-25-5) will try to take advantage of the absence of Colorado’s top-scoring defenseman, but wins haven’t come easy for the young team. Arizona has lost eight of its last nine, with the only victory coming against Washington to snap a seven-game losing streak.
One bright spot in an otherwise bad season is the play of 20-year-old forward Christian Fischer. Fischer’s goal with 1:01 left in regulation tied the Capitals, and then the Coyotes won it on Clayton Keller’s goal in overtime.
Fischer’s play has been steady for Arizona.
“I think it’s just knowing what I can bring to this team and knowing what this team lacks,” Fischer told The Arizona Republic. “I don’t know how many similar-style guys play how I play. A power forward in this league, they don’t just come off a tree. They take a while, they’ve got to develop.
“This whole year has been a progression, I think, from October to now, the way I’m playing and just going upward. … It’s been a combination of things, but I’m happy with where things are at with myself.”