ANAHEIM, Calif. – Lubomir Visnovsky felt a bit like a character in a science-fiction film awakening in a strange, ugly world.
The Slovak defenceman returned from a month on the Anaheim Ducks’ injured reserve to a club with a new coach, a lengthy losing stretch and an unfamiliar spot in last place in the overall NHL standings.
Visnovsky and three new teammates immediately showed why the Ducks’ movie still might have a happy ending.
Niklas Hagman scored two goals, Jonas Hiller made 19 saves and Anaheim earned its second win in six games under new coach Bruce Boudreau, 4-1 over the slumping Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.
Rod Pelley scored in his Anaheim debut and Kyle Palmieri also had a goal for the Ducks, who climbed out of 30th place in the NHL with their fifth victory in 25 games.
The Ducks also got a major boost from the return of Visnovsky, who missed the past 13 games with a broken finger on his right hand. Visnovsky had an assist on Pelley’s goal and ran the point on Anaheim’s power play while racking up seven shots, epitomizing the aggressive offensive game Anaheim must play to maximize its ample talent.
“New coach, new system, and I don’t play in a month—that’s pressure,” said Visnovsky, the NHL’s top-scoring defenceman last season with 68 points. “Everybody was saying, ‘Lubo is back, Lubo is back.’ But every shift, I had more confidence in me. … Sometimes it’s still not easy because of the finger, but I have a lot of energy right now. The guys all need to bring energy.”
Although MVP Corey Perry had two assists, Anaheim’s goals all came from unlikely contributors who weren’t with the club when Visnovsky went out—the three Ducks in uniform with the fewest games played for the franchise.
Hagman scored his second and third goals in 12 games with Anaheim, while Pelley and Palmieri chipped in with their first of the season.
“They sure played hard tonight,” said Boudreau, who took over the Ducks less than three days after Washington fired him. “This is the hardest I’ve seen a team work this year that I’ve been coaching, and that includes the Capitals, so it was fun to watch.”
Martin Hanzal scored for Phoenix’s NHL-worst power-play unit and Mike Smith stopped 24 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost three straight and five of seven. Phoenix had won four in a row against its Pacific Division rivals, but Smith lost in regulation to the Ducks for the first time in his NHL career.
“We’ve lacked the emotion on an everyday basis, every shift,” Smith said of the Coyotes’ skid. “That’s a big part of it. We’ve been a good team this year at bouncing back after losses, but we’re in a stretch right now where it seems like it’s a little harder to do that. Right now, we’re not giving ourselves much chance to win hockey games.”
The Coyotes began a stretch of three games in four nights with an unimpressive effort, although their power play scored for just the second time in 10 games.
Late in the first period, Pelley blew past Adrian Aucoin along the boards and beat Smith on a breakaway for his first goal with the Ducks, who acquired him from New Jersey on Monday in a four-player trade. Pelley, best known as a rugged penalty-killer and depth forward, hadn’t scored an NHL goal since last Jan. 17.
Anaheim went up 2-0 on a power play early in the second period when Hagman corralled a rebound of Perry’s shot and scored the second goal of his 12-game stint with the Ducks, who claimed the Finnish veteran off waivers from Calgary last month.
“You take three penalties in the first period, and those guys have got some pretty good players they can put on the power play,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “That’s one of those things we talked about before the game, but unfortunately we took three minors and gave them momentum. … It’s very frustrating. We’ve got to do things a lot better and a lot harder. There’s a lot of factors in there that have to be better.”
Hanzal trimmed the Ducks’ lead when he got a pass from Ray Whitney and beat Hiller for his fifth goal. Phoenix had scored on just two of its previous 46 power plays in the past 16 games.
But Hagman put the Ducks up 3-1 late in the second period with a backhand in front after an exceptional pass from Perry, who anticipated Hagman’s move in front of the net.
Palmieri then redirected Bobby Ryan’s shot in front early in the third period for his first goal since the high-scoring minor leaguer’s recall from the AHL last week.
NOTES: Anaheim played without centre Saku Koivu, who went on injured reserve before missing his second straight game with a lower-body injury. … Phoenix has never beaten Anaheim five straight times. … Hagman had the 15th multigoal game of his career, but his first since April 10, 2010. … Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette skated in his first game since Nov. 25.