TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs had a rough second period on Wednesday night and the surprising Phoenix Coyotes took advantage.
Petr Prucha scored twice for Phoenix and Keith Yandle and Martin Hanzal each chipped in with three assists as the Coyotes scored four times in second to double up the Maple Leafs 6-3.
Picked by many before the season to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference, the Coyotes are 7-1-1 in their last nine and 20-12-2 overall under first-year head coach Dave Tippett.
“We really expected to win,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan, adding the players knew they were going to be competitive this season, despite the team’s uncertain future.
“Tippett knows what he wants to do and was able to dictate exactly what everybody wants and that really makes it easy.”
Toronto (12-15-7) has made a move up the standings in recent weeks but took nearly 40 minutes to get anything going against Phoenix.
“They were kind of swarming everywhere, in our zone and in their zone and they made us look pretty bad,” said Maple Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger of the Coyotes’ four-goal second.
“No bounces (went) our way and they got a few their way.”
The line of Mikhail Grabovski, Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman was on the ice for three goals against in the second, but Toronto coach Ron Wilson said the problems ran much deeper.
“Their line ended being minus-3, but they didn’t get any help from the defencemen either,” Wilson noted. “It was a giveaway-fest in the second period, we couldn’t find any loose pucks and we got pushed out of the way.
“A small part of the blame went with those guys, but our defence just wasn’t very good tonight.”
Jamal Mayers got his first of the season early in the second and Phil Kessel scored for the third straight game on the power play late in the period to make it a 5-2 heading to the third.
Alexei Ponikarovski’s goal midway through the third brought the Leafs closer, but they had simply dug themselves too deep of a hole.
Vernon Fiddler, Paul Bissonnette, Scottie Upshall and Radim Vrbata, into an empty net, also scored for Phoenix. Daniel Winnik added two assists.
“We wanted to stay aggressive,” said Tippet, who replaced Wayne Gretzky behind the bench before the season. “We gave up a couple late, but I thought our guys competed hard.”
Ilya Bryzgalov, who was largely untested until the third period, picked up the win for the Coyotes in front of 19,888 at Air Canada Centre.
Prucha opened the scoring in the first period, taking pass at the side of the crease and wiring a shot short-side past Toskala.
Some sloppy defensive play by Toronto allowed Prucha to put his team up 2-0 just 0:51 into the second, but exactly a minute later Mayers got that one back on a breakaway started by Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin.
However, Phoenix took over with three unanswered goals thanks some hard work and a couple fortunate bounces.
Fiddler backhanded home a loose puck that came to rest in the slot before Bissonnette tipped home a point shot from Yandle to make it 4-1.
It was a special goal for Bissonnette, a tough guy from nearby Welland, Ont., who had a very interested onlooker see him score his second goal of the year after drawing into the lineup for the first time in eight games.
“I was pretty excited and I look forward to talking to (my) dad after the game,” Bissonnette said. “It was his first NHL game.”
Tippett said the scrappy Bissonnette personifies what the Coyotes have been about this season.
“He works so hard in practice and he’s one of those guys, he scores a goal and the whole bench erupts,” Tippett said. “He’s a guy that brings energy, brings commitment to every shift. He’ll go right through the wall to help you win.”
Upshall was credited with his goal when the puck went through the Toronto goalmouth, deflected off Ian White’s skate and trickled over the line before Toskala could smother it with his glove.
The loss ended a four-game home winning streak for Toronto, while the Coyotes earned their fourth consecutive victory over the Leafs in the teams’ only meeting of the season.
Notes: Coyotes captain Shane Doan played his 999th game. … Toronto sophomore defenceman Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. Phoenix scratched centre Peter Mueller, who has been unable to find his game at the NHL level since being drafted eighth overall in 2006. … Wednesday marked the Coyotes first visit to Toronto since Jan. 14, 2006.