Coyotes rely on pack mentality without Vrbata
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes captain Shane Doan
understands the difficulty of competing without a top player in the first round
of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He was there in 1997 when Jeremy Roenick blew out his knee in a knee-on-knee
collision with Anaheim center Ted Drury in Game 6 of a seven-game series loss
that Phoenix had led three games to two.
Doan was there in 1998 when the Coyotes lost goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to a
groin injury in Game 4, when they were leading Detroit two games to one. They
also played without defenseman Teppo Numminen (groin) for all but one game of
that series, which they lost in six.
In 1999, they played all but one game of a seven-game series loss to St. Louis
without Roenick (broken jaw), their leading scorer. And in 2010, Doan was the
man missing after suffering a Grade 3 shoulder separation in Game 3 against
Detroit. The Coyotes again were eliminated in seven, after leading two games to
Now the Coyotes are facing life without leading goal scorer Radim Vrbata, who
was injured on his first shift against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of
their first-round series Thursday at Jobing.com Arena.
Chicago wing Andrew Shaw injured Vrbata along the boards with a crunching hit,
robbing the Coyotes of a guy who accounted for nearly one in every six goals
they scored this season. The Coyotes are calling it an "upper-body injury."
Shaw said he thought Vrbata's shoulder was injured.
“He scores goals that other people just don’t,” Doan said. “If he hadn’t been
hurt this year for a little bit he probably would have gotten 40 (Vrbata had
35), and there’s not many 40-goal scorers in the league.
“Losing him so early made it tough on the lines. It (created) some confusion with
who you’re going with.”
Mikkel Boedker was Vrbata’s replacement on the Ray Whitney/Martin Hanzal line
on Thursday, and coach Dave Tippett liked what he saw. But Tippett was
non-committal when asked if that new line would remain intact for Saturday’s Game
“There’s enough there that we can grab onto, but I’m not sure where our lineup
is going to be yet,” Tippett said Friday. “We’ll continue to monitor what we
think works for us, the combinations, what might fall into place with different
matchups, different scenarios to try to get your rhythm in a game.”
Vrbata is listed as day to day, but as is the custom in the NHL, Tippett won’t
disclose the nature of the injury, despite Shaw’s hunch.
“What are we going to call it? Uh, upper body,” Tippett said before waxing
comedic about the NHL’s vague injury reporting protocol of dividing the body
into upper and lower portions. “A few years ago, we had to get into quarters.
Now we’re into halves.”
The Coyotes played five games down the stretch without Vrbata when he was
dealing with an allergic reaction to penicillin.
“We’re used to finding ways to make do without him,” Doan said.
More to the point, the Coyotes feel they have the horses to handle the loss.
“That’s something that’s a little new for our team,” Doan said. “In the past,
you might not have the depth at every line. Our first line was Hanzal and Vrby
and (Whitney), no doubt about that, but then, after that, (the) lines that can
be in any order.”
That depth was on display when the Coyotes received secondary scoring from wing
Taylor Pyatt and center Antoine Vermette in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win. They
are hoping that asset will be enough to avoid having history repeat itself.
“It’s pretty tough when you lose your best goal scorer,” Hanzal said.