GLENDALE, Ariz. – The new version of the Jets was no match for the team that used to call Winnipeg home.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, nicknamed “Harry” by his teammates because—according to captain Shane Doan—”he looks like Harry Potter,” scored two goals and the Phoenix Coyotes won their home opener by beating Winnipeg 4-1 on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Swedish defenceman, Phoenix’s top draft pick and the sixth selection overall in 2009, has three goals in the team’s first four games.
“My slap shot is not the best one but it went in,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I feel comfortable out there so it’s fun to play.”
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who faced only 19 shots, called Ekman-Larsson “unbelievable.”
“I mean, the kid’s got all the skill in the world to be an elite defenceman in this league,” Smith said.
The game featured the original Jets, who moved to Phoenix in 1996, against the new Jets, freshly transferred from Atlanta and still looking for their first victory after three games.
“I’m not frustrated, I’m disappointed,” Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said, “and I’m not sure what we’re waiting for. It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail.”
Daymond Langkow got his first goal of the season 34 seconds in as Phoenix scored twice and had three penalty kills in a dominant first period. Ray Whitney had a goal and an assist for the Coyotes. Smith made 18 saves and stopped Nik Antropov’s penalty shot.
Andrew Ladd scored for Winnipeg.
A noisy capacity crowd of 17,132 was in attendance as the Coyotes began their third season under NHL ownership. Several thousand were Winnipeg fans who didn’t find much to cheer about.
“Everybody always talks about we have games when there’s a lot of visiting fans in there,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “But what it does is really feed on the emotion of the building because you get some visiting fans in there cheering that really puts a burr in your fans’ butt. I thought our fans did a great job tonight. Believe me, I had visions of hearing ‘Let’s go Jets’ a lot more than we heard tonight.”
There had been much speculation after last season, when another potential sale of the Coyotes fell through, that the franchise could be headed back to Winnipeg. But the city of Glendale for the second time guaranteed US$25 million to cover losses, and the Atlanta Thrashers headed to Canada instead.
Many in the boisterous crowd had barely taken their seats when Langkow scored on an assist from Whitney.
The Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien lost the puck to Whitney, who skated behind the Winnipeg net, then flipped the puck to Langkow. Stationed in front, Langkow tapped the puck past goalie Chris Mason.
Phoenix made it 2-0 when Ekman-Larsson scored an unassisted goal with 10:48 remaining in the first period. Several players were in a scrum right in front of the Winnipeg net when the puck slipped out to Mason’s right to Ekman-Larsson, who fired it sharply past the Jets goalie.
Ekman-Larsson’s nasty slap shot from way outside made it 3-0 with 5:03 to go in the second. Winnipeg broke through when what appeared to be a harmless shot by Ladd slipped between Smith’s legs with 18.9 seconds left in the second.
The Coyotes made it 4-1 on Whitney’s power-play goal with 6:43 remaining.
Langkow left the ice after taking a puck to the face just less than five minutes into the game. He went to his knees for several minutes before slowly skating away but returned late in the opening period.
With 10:50 to play, Antropov was awarded a penalty shot but his attempt from the left side of the net was blocked by Smith.
Evander Kane ran over Smith behind the Phoenix net with 9:04 to play, leading to a penalty that negated a Jets goal. Smith was slow to get up, grabbing his left leg as he got back to his feet, but stayed in the game.
NOTES: The Jets killed a four-minute high-sticking penalty against Ron Hainsey in the second period. … Winnipeg plays 10 of its first 14 games on the road. … Doan still needs one goal to reach 300 for his career. … The Winnipeg-Atlanta franchise is 1-13-1 against the Coyotes, 0-8-1 in Arizona. … Phoenix plays five of its next six at home, beginning Tuesday against Chicago. … The Coyotes have won two in a row.