Coyotes notebook: OEL making himself known
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Lost in the hysteria of the Game 1 White Out, a blown late lead and Martin Hanzal’s overtime dramatics was the fact that 20-year-old defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson logged a game-high 31:14 of ice time. For those doing the math, yes, that’s darn near half of Thursday’s 69-plus-minute game.
“I felt pretty good,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I played with a lot of confidence out there. I just played my game.”
Not many outside the Phoenix market and NHL circles know Ekman-Larsson’s name, but they will. Between his fluid, long strides, his top-notch stick skills, his poise, his instincts and his acumen at both ends of the rink, OEL is well on his way to becoming the Coyotes’ top blue-liner.
“That kid is limitless,” defenseman Adrian Aucoin said. “He’s just so smooth out there, so smart. He’s the total package.”
Ekman-Larsson has been logging heavy minutes over the latter half of the season, and the nine-plus minutes of overtime added to his total on Thursday. But he still logged more minutes than anyone on the ice, including stalwart Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook.
“It’s all about what you have to do to win and putting players on the ice you think you can win with,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “He touches a lot of different situations. He moves the puck very well. He thinks the game very well. We’ve used him on power play, penalty kill and against other teams’ top players.
“He’s going to be a top player in this league for a long time.”
Reported sightings of prospective Coyotes buyer Greg Jamison on Thursday at Jobing.com Arena were accurate. The Coyotes confirmed that Jamison did, in fact, attend the game, but they declined to provide any further details.
Here’s a blog from one fan’s interaction with Jamison on Thursday: http://myhockeyrambling.blogspot.com/2012/04/jamison-at-coyotes-game.html
THE WRECKING CREW
Before Thursday’s game, Coyotes analyst Tyson Nash dubbed the Taylor Pyatt-Boyd Gordon-Lauri Korpikoski line “The Wrecking Crew” on The Roc and Manuch Show on AM 1060.
With Radim Vrbata (upper body) apparently out of the lineup due to an injury suffered on the first shift of Game 1, that line may have to be shuffled, but Nash thinks the unit can have a major impact on this series when it’s intact.
“They’re big bodies, they can all skate and they get in on the forecheck,” Nash said. “I think that is built for playoff hockey. It’s all about the little things, the board battles, and those guys are tough to take off the puck.”
The line paid dividends Thursday when Pyatt scored in the second period to tie the score at 1-1. It was Pyatt’s third goal in his last two games since returning from an undisclosed injury.
The focus in the Blackhawks locker room Friday was on two aspects of the game that could best be termed "keep away." The Hawks were unhappy with the amount of turnovers they committed in the neutral zone after Thursday’s first period.
“We tried to make plays all the time instead of just keeping it simpler in the neutral zone, maybe just chip it in and go for it instead of always trying tape-to-tape passes,” wing Marian Hossa said.
The other area the Hawks want to improve is their dump-ins on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who likes to play the puck and helps his team break out of the zone more efficiently and quickly by doing so.
“I thought we had some careless -- or not really (any) purpose behind some of our dumps,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got to make sure that every time that there’s something behind it.”
Quenneville hinted at some possible lineup changes for Game 2 on Saturday, but offered no specifics. Veteran center Brendan Morrison and wing Jimmy Hayes are possibilities.
Four games isn’t enough of a sample sized to judge a player’s effectiveness, but in four career playoff games, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith has a .957 save percentage (93 shots, 89 saves).
Toews on the hits he took Thursday from the Coyotes: “I expected worse -- not to undershoot what happened."