Hanzal comes up big in Coyotes’ big win

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Martin Hanzal should hire a new agent. The current one never negotiated a contract incentive for shooting percentage.

“I wish,” Hanzal said, laughing.

In 11 games, Hanzal has seven goals on 26 shots for a gaudy 26.9 percent conversion rate. That rate took a spike on Saturday when he buried two of his four chances, including the game-winner on a power play midway through the third period and an empty-netter to ice the Coyotes’ much-needed 5-3 win over the lowly Blue Jackets at Jobing.com Arena.

To put that in perspective, Hanzal had eight goals in 64 games last season, and his career high is 16, set the season before. So what’s different?

“It’s my secret,” Hanzal said, smiling. “I’m pretty much doing everything like I was doing last year. The only positive thing I could say was during the lockout I was playing, so maybe I stayed in shape, but I don’t know.”

One thing the Coyotes would like to see Hanzal do more is establish a net presence. At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, he creates an imposing obstacle. To drive home that point, coach Dave Tippett said the club showed him film Friday of the team’s 3-0 loss in Nashville on Thursday.

“It looked like we were stepping out of the way of the goalie’s screen, and tonight he was in the way. Sometimes that can be a big difference,” Tippett said. “He’s a big guy. Goalies have a hard time seeing around him. He’s got to hang around there.”

Hanzal almost missed his power-play opportunity after a nifty goal-mouth feed from defenseman Keith Yandle, who had a superb game with three assists, nine shots and a sixth sense about when to jump into the play. With the game tied 3-3, Radim Vrbata out with a lower-body injury and the Coyotes having failed on their previous five power plays, Yandle took a cross-ice feed from Columbus killer Steve Sullivan (two assists, 50 points in 49 career games against the Jackets). Yandle slipped a pass right onto Hanzal’s stick in the crease, but Hanzal’s first shot bounced off goalie Steve Mason’s pad even though Hanzal was behind him and Mason was completely out of position.

Fortunately for Hanzal, who turns 26 on Wednesday, he got an early birthday present when the puck bounced right back to him for an easy tap-in and a 4-3 lead. He added the empty-netter with four seconds left.

The five-goal outburst was unexpected for a team that had scored just 10 goals in its previous six games. More importantly, the Coyotes got two points they sorely needed with a three-game road swing through western Canada approaching next weekend after Monday’s home game against Calgary.

“The way I look at is we came off the road trip, we got four of six points, we come home and we’ve got two teams, and then we sit around for the week and don’t play until the weekend,” Tippett said. “We’re kind of in the pack right now. With not playing Monday until Saturday, you could be at the bottom of the pack, so we’d better make hay while we can.”

The win pulled Phoenix even with eighth-place Detroit in points at 16, but the Red Wings have a game in hand, so the Coyotes still sit in ninth place.

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