GLENDALE, Ariz. — As reporters headed to the Phoenix locker room on Tuesday night, a distinct smell of smoke filled the air.
It wasn’t the building. It must have been the home team.
How do you settle on the Coyotes’ most impressive feat since the All-Star break?
Article continues below ...
Is it the 8-0-1 February streak that has rallied the team from 12th in the Western Conference standings to a tie with San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division?
Is it goalie Mike Smith’s consistency, which gives his team a chance to win almost every night?
Is it Radim Vrbata’s repeated ability to score huge and highlight-reel goals like the game-tying tally on Tuesday, his 30th of the season with 2:27 left in regulation?
Or is it now the Coyotes’ 5-4, come-from-behind, shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday — the kind of win that can have long-term psychological impact on the winner and the loser.
“You hope it does because it continues to build the belief system,” said coach Dave Tippett of his team’s first victory this season in a game in which it trailed by three goals. “You can win when things are going well and you can win when there is some adversity in front of you.”
There were so many contributions to this comeback that a few warrant mention.
First, it was apparent, once again, how valuable center Martin Hanzal is to the cause. He tied a career-high with three assists and he impacted the game in a dozen different ways, even if his inability to finish is still gnawing at him.
“Especially when you play with Vrby and (Ray Whitney),” he said. “Almost every game they have points. It’s nice when you have some points.”
Second was captain Shane Doan’s superlative effort. He had two goals, but he also won a lot of battles both along the boards and in open ice, and made some key defensive plays to break up what looked like odd-man Los Angeles rushes.
Third was the overall effort of the much-maligned power play, which produced three goals on six attempts, tying a season high set in the season opener. On all but one power play, the Coyotes’ puck movement was crisp, there was traffic in front of the net and pucks made their way to Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
Finally, and in line with that power play, goes the effort of Gilbert Brulé, who drew a trio of LA penalties, two with his speed and one with his head when Kings forward Kyle Clifford delivered an elbow to Brulé’s jaw that earned him a match penalty.
Clifford is suspended for an illegal check to the head until league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan reviews the play.
“It’s a poster child for a hit to the head,” Tippett said.
The early reports on Brulé don’t look promising. The Coyotes will know more on Wednesday, but it appears Brulé suffered his second concussion in the past three years and could miss some time, further adding to the team’s injury woes.
“I talked to him just for a second and he didn’t seem like he was in very good shape,” Tippett said.
That would be a shame for a team that has put itself in good shape as it heads to Alberta for a two-game trip against Calgary and Edmonton, riding what could be a defining win.
“When they got that three-goal lead, maybe they thought the game was over but we never gave up and we got that extra point which could be huge,” Vrbata said. “It might be something that will make a difference in the end.”