Coming off of a 6-5 win at the Washington Capitals on Sunday, the Arizona Coyotes came into their Tuesday night game against the Toronto Maple Leafs ready to start a win-streak. They got a taste of what it’s like to win, and they’re hungry for another.
It’s always a good night when the home team wins… Definitely makes the trek down to the locker room post-game worth it. With the Arizona Coyotes trumping the Toronto Maple Leafs, the atmosphere is just totally different. The players are excited and everyone is in a good mood. The optimism that had been lacking was there, and the team knows that they are getting closer to where they are supposed to be.
Going into the game, the team talked about “managing the game better.” Head Coach Dave Tippett brought up the game in Washington, when things just kind of got messy on their 6-3 lead, that eventually lead to the Coyotes only winning by one when talking about game management. They talked about it before the game, and there was definite improvement.
Right off of the puck drop in the first period, there was constant pressure on the Maple Leafs. A messy performance by the Leafs opened the door (and the net) for goal opportunities. Two in the first, alone put the ‘Yotes in a good place for a win. The Leafs looked like they slept walked through the first, missing chances, turning the puck over and making sloppy passes. Coach Tippet said that the first was “played very well” and they “were dictating the play” of the game.
The second period showed more signs of life from Toronto with a slapshot goal from captain Dion Phaneuf. An unassisted wraparound goal from Antoine Vermette of the Coyotes was another step up, and from there, the play of the game escalated. The most penalties of both periods were drawn, leading to six in total. Both teams wanted the “W”. Tippet said “the special teams kind of jumped in there in the second and took some rhythm out of the game” but other than that, the Coyotes kept pushing.
The third period was the Coyotes worst period, and that is only because of the bad circumstances. The first two periods, even Tippett said they “weren’t giving up much at all,” and in the third they got “a little ragged with some pucks” because of the pressure. The Leafs scoring on a power play goal lead to things getting chaotic, but the Coyotes still pushed, and defensively did what they needed to get the puck out.
Coach Tippet was optimistic about the game stating “it was an improvement and there’s still improvement needed, but moving in the right direction.” They still have a ways to go, but the improvements that they have said that they need to make are getting there, and they know what they need to fix. The fact that they scored all of their goals on 5-on-5 play was a step up, considering the struggle they have faced with producing when at even strength.
The fore-check was good, it brought about mistakes from the Leafs. That was a huge factor the first periods. Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk commented on the fore-check tonight saying that
“[It’s] one of the staples for their [the Coyotes] team, we know that they fore-check hard and they are strong on pucks offensively and that is something we knew coming in.”
Martin Erat said that the energy that they had in the first period, they had “found it in Washington, a lot of energy, and we finally decided to put some pucks in the net.” Ultimately, the energy that they had throughout the whole game was what lead to them getting on the board first and ultimately winning the game.
The Coyotes start of the season was surely rough, and that lead to frustration and disappointment in the locker room. The start for goaltender Mike Smith was one of the most talked about things for the Coyotes. Within his first four games, he had around 16 goals against him, and this lead to lots of questions. Coach Dave Tippett was confident the whole while that Smith was the one meant to be in that net. When backup goalie Devan Dubnyk is winning games, and Smith just isn’t, you really are going to question the coach’s sanity.
Tonight was a whole different story, the struggling Smith came out with 28 saves on 30 shots and proved to everyone that he was there to stay. The two goals against were difficult to get, and so Smith’s appearance in goal was actually rather incredible. Fans cringed at several points on mistakes in the back, but Smith made the stops he needed to, and got the puck out. Through difficult 5-on-3 penalty kills (something that Smith stated “you gain momentum” from) and a strong offensive push, Smith said that “You play the right way and you get those bounces and as a group we understood that.”
The Coyotes starting line stayed out on that ice for a good chunk of the game. Defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson had the most ice time out of all of the skaters coming in with 31:31. His presence was strong out there, and he had some incredible hits to contribute. Keith Yandle didn’t fall far behind with 28:25 TOI, and he was throwing himself around out there doing whatever he could to keep the puck out of their defensive zone, it worked, and he played it up in their offensive zone quite a bit.
Overall, the game was a big step up after a really rough start to the season. The mistakes that they were making before aren’t as prevalent, and things are getting fixed. Tippett said now it’s not a matter of “execution” of the game. It’s “playing smart but it’s also executing smart.” The execution is getting there, but it’s not quite there yet.
“There’s times when I think that we think the game well, we just can’t get it done. It’s more about getting it done” – Coach Dave Tippett