COLUMBUS, Ohio – How fitting that the Phoenix Coyotes have a pack mentality.
Martin Hanzal, Zbynek Michalek and Robert Lang scored power-play goals and Jason LaBarbera stopped 31 shots in the Coyotes’ 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.
“We’ve started that pack mentality,” Lang said. “Everybody pulls together and everybody’s in there for their teammates. If you make a mistake, somebody’s going to bail you out, or vice versa. It’s the strength of five that are on the ice, that’s sort of what (coach Dave Tippett) wants and what he emphasizes.”
James Vandermeer had what ended up being the winner when his even-strength shot from just inside the blue-line ricocheted off a Columbus defender and into the net late in the second period.
Four players scored goals and four others had assists for the Coyotes, far more organized on the ice than the financially troubled organization is off it after being sold to the NHL earlier this week.
The Coyotes spread the work and the scoring around with Keith Yandle the only player with more than one point, adding three assists.
“That’s where we’re going to be all year,” Tippett said. “It was a good, solid group effort. We have to continue to build on that. We want consistency of that – not up and down – and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Coyotes, the stingiest team in the Western Conference, have given up just 23 goals in their first 11 games. LaBarbera hadn’t played in almost three weeks, but yet looked sharp in net in stopping a two-game losing skid.
“I’ve been feeling good in practice. It makes it easier when you can carry that over into the game,” he said. “We kind of had a frame of mind today that we just had to get after it, we had to be more aggressive. We had to be a lot more competitive than our last couple of games.”
Derick Brassard had the lone goal for the Blue Jackets, who played seven of the first 10 on the road and looked flat in the first of seven of nine games at home.
“Too many plays with the puck that are too light that come back to haunt us,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’re paying for the errors we make. We’re not doing the things in the competitive areas that we need to do. We had a decent first period and then the turnover machine in the second. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and dig in.”
Down 1-0 midway through the second period, the Coyotes drew even on their first power-play goal. Yandle swooped down the left wing and saucered a lead pass for Ed Jovanovski, but Columbus goalie Steve Mason made the stop. He didn’t cover the puck, however, and Hanzal was there to ram it past him an instant before being levelled by Columbus defenceman Mike Commodore, who was called for roughing.
Not long after the Blue Jackets killed off that penalty, Vandermeer had a long, hard shot from the edge of the offensive zone. It was wide to the right of the goal but it hit Columbus defenceman Fedor Tyutin’s right leg and ricocheted into the net.
Michalek was in the high slot when he took a perfect setup pass from Radim Vrbata to pot a second power-play tally to make it 3-1. Lang then took a feed from Yandle to score from a hard angle along the left goal line, again with a man advantage, to close the scoring.
“We don’t have that guy like (Rick) Nash, like they have,” Michalek said. “We need everybody on the board every single night and to get those ugly goals. Drive to the net, use our speed, get to those rebounds. That’s how we’ll be successful. Everything starts with the defence.”
The Coyotes were 3 for 6 on the power play.
Mason gave up four goals on 23 shots and has surrendered 20 goals in his last five games.
LaBarbera’s biggest save came during a 4-on-4 early in the third period with the Coyotes hanging on to a one-goal lead. Kris Russell fed Brassard on a 2-on-1 break but LaBarbera smothered the chip shot.
NOTES: The game marked the return of Dave King, the Blue Jackets’ coach for the franchise’s first two-plus years. He’s an assistant with the Coyotes and received a nice video tribute in the first period. … Jovanovski has points in his last three games (1-4-5) … Just before the game Columbus assigned D Mathieu Roy to the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse. … The Coyotes had lost their last two games. … Antoine Vermette’s five-game point streak for the Blue Jackets was ended.