GLENDALE, Ariz. – Digging pucks out of the corners, finishing checks to the boards and squeezing the defensive zone down to tiny patches of ice, Phoenix returned to the gritty game it had gotten away from during a miserable couple of weeks.
Throw in a drought-busting goal by Taylor Pyatt and Ilya Bryzgalov’s fourth shutout, this could be the kind of win that jolts the Coyotes back into their grind-til-the-end ways.
Playing with a fire that had only come in spurts recently, the Coyotes were solid at both ends in a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, ending their home losing streak at five games.
“It’s just some elements in our game, the desperation, the work that’s needed hadn’t been there,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We had to refocus for a couple of days here and it’s a good first step for us.”
Phoenix was coming off what may have been its most disappointing loss of the season, a 6-0 home whacking against Vancouver. Fed up with the occasional lack of effort his team had been playing with, captain Shane Doan held a meeting afterward to set everyone straight.
Doan’s words resonated through two hard days of practice and carried over into what had turned into a key game against the Wild.
Ramping up the intensity that had gone missing, Phoenix was solid defensively in front of Bryzgalov and peppered Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom with 31 shots in the first two periods.
Backstrom, coming off two shutouts his previous four games, was stellar most of the night, extending his scoreless streak to a franchise-record 157:13 that carried into the third period.
Phoenix finally got rewarded for its hard work early in the third period, when Sami Lepisto made a nice play to keep the puck in Minnesota’s zone and fed Pyatt, who one-timed it past Backstrom’s glove side from the slot for the Coyotes’ first goal in 132 minutes.
The defence and Bryzgalov did the rest, shutting down a late power play to finish off his 20th shutout in his 300th career game.
“We played the full 60 minutes,” Doan said. “We hadn’t done that in a while.”
Phoenix needed it all against Minnesota.
The Wild, who won 13 road games all last season, came in 11-3-1 on the road since a 3-2 victory at Phoenix on Dec. 9 and had won six of seven overall after beating the Avalanche 4-3 Thursday night in Colorado.
Getting out to a fast start has been the key; Minnesota had outscored opponents 15-5 in the first period of its previous 12 road games and had the opening goal in all 15 of its wins away from St. Paul.
The Wild couldn’t pull it off this time, though, unable to get many good chances against Bryzgalov or keep the Coyotes off Backstrom.
“We had our chances,” said Backstrom, who set the previous scoreless record of 149:14 in 2008-09. “We gave up the one goal and it was a tight game. One bounce there, one bounce here and we could have tied it.”
The Coyotes have simply been outworked over the past month, something they can’t afford.
Bereft of a true star—Doan is the closest thing—Phoenix is a team that grinds out wins with effort and good goaltending.
The Coyotes haven’t gotten much of either lately.
One of the NHL’s best goalies a year ago, Bryzgalov has been good, not great. His goals-against average of 2.68 is nearly half a goal more than last season and he had allowed at least four goals in five of his previous seven games.
One of the league’s hardest-working teams last season, Phoenix also has frustrated Tippett with sporadic effort. The Coyotes blew a two-goal lead to last-place Edmonton just before the all-star break, lost a three-goal lead to San Jose on Tuesday and got walloped by the Canucks on Thursday.
Effort wasn’t a problem early on for the Coyotes in this one.
Phoenix fired 16 shots at him and had numerous good chances in the opening period, only to get turned away each time. Backstrom made multiple saves on three separate flurries, capping it with a spectacular kick save on a point-blank shot by Martin Hanzal in the closing seconds.
Backstrom turned away 15 more shots in the second period—two on snatching glove saves—but Bryzgalov held his ground, too, giving the Coyotes a chance to set up Pyatt’s winning goal.
“We didn’t have the legs to match their legs tonight,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “They looked a bit faster and quicker.”
Notes: Phoenix D Ed Jovanovski missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. … The Wild are 4-18-1 when allowing the first goal. … The Coyotes had allowed 11 straight goals before Pyatt scored.