Curtis Joseph made 28 saves for his 50th career shutout as the Coyotes beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 Tuesday night. Steve Reinprecht, Shane Doan and Mike Zigomanis scored for Phoenix, which had lost three of its last four overall, but has won nine of its last 12 road games.
Originally scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET, the game was delayed 35 minutes because the Coyotes were stuck in traffic travelling from their team hotel while a severe snow storm blanketed Greater Columbus. The game started with the arena less than half full and many left early.
“We were a little bit sluggish the first five minutes, probably to be expected after a two-hour bus ride,” Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said of the trip that typically takes 15 minutes.
But the Coyotes found their legs and handed the Blue Jackets their 12th shutout loss, setting a Columbus franchise season record. They have lost three straight since a four-game winning streak.
Joseph credited his teammates for jumping to a lead and then joked when asked about his 50th career blanking.
“It’s half as many as Terry Sawchuk,” he said, referring to the all-time goaltending shutouts leader.
Both teams entered fighting just to stay in the Western Conference playoff race before the regular-season stretch run even starts. Phoenix came in 12 points out of the eighth and final spot, while Columbus started the day 15 points off the pace.
Phoenix and Joseph also weathered a flurry of early first-period shots by Columbus before opening the scoring at 15:17.
“We were just lucky that our goaltender … kept the game nothing-nothing,” Gretzky said. “We scored the all-important first goal and went from there.”
Soon after a huge melee at centre ice between the team benches that resulted in two fights and three roughing minors, the Coyotes settled in four-on-four. Reinprecht scored with a redirection off a point shot through traffic by Ed Jovanovski.
Phoenix scored two more goals during the second period while winning nearly every loose puck. Columbus fans booed their team, which had promised to work hard to climb the standings during a stretch of eight of 10 games at home, where the Blue Jackets are 10-4-1 since Ken Hitchcock was named coach.
“We didn’t play with a sense of urgency throughout our lineup,” Hitchcock said.
A slick individual effort by Doan made it 2-0 at 6:03 on his 18th of the season. Doan stole the puck from Manny Malhotra at centre ice, curled toward the net and fired a slapshot under the arm of Fredrik Norrena, who missed the last three games with a groin injury.
“I got the puck and the D-men were a little backed off,” Doan said. “I was able to gain the blue-line with speed, get a good shot away.”
After again clogging neutral ice, the Coyotes countered this time with Georges Laraque passing to Zigomanis, who got behind Alexander Svitov to score his ninth at 11:06.
“We had some people play well, but we’re not a team that can have three or four players carry us,” Hitchcock said.
Notes: The Blue Jackets are on a six-game homestand, their longest in franchise history. … The Coyotes finished 0-for-5 on the power play and are 3-for-41 in their last nine games. … Columbus RW Nikolai Zherdev missed his third game in the last five fighting flu-like symptoms.