EDMONTON – The Phoenix Coyotes played one of their worst games in recent memory on Thursday. Fortunately for them, they were playing the hard-luck Edmonton Oilers.
Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata each had a goal and an assist as the Coyotes won their fourth in a row with a 3-1 victory over the Oilers in a game where they were outshot 36-17 and received a couple of game-changing breaks.
“We didn’t play very good at all,” Whitney said. “It’s one of those games where you take the points and leave it at that. I don’t think we are going to kid ourselves and think we played good in any fashion. Ilya Bryzgalov was good in net again but that has been the story the last month. If we play like that tomorrow (in Vancouver) they could score in double digits.”
Lee Stempniak also scored for the Coyotes (38-23-11) who have gone 5-0-1 in their last six outings.
“We came for two points and we were very fortunate to get two points tonight,” said Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. “Bryzgalov was excellent and the rest of our group, not so much. We didn’t play very well as a group and that’s the bottom line. We took poor penalties at poor times and we just didn’t play very well.”
The Coyotes killed off eight of nine Oiler power plays on the night.
“It was one of those nights where we weren’t disciplined enough,” said Phoenix captain Shane Doan. “It was bad tonight. We can’t afford to do that.”
Magnus Paajarvi replied for the last place Oilers (23-39-9) who have lost five straight.
“The guys played their guts out tonight,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “You can name any element of our game tonight and we tried. It doesn’t always translate into what you want.”
Oilers forward Ryan Jones said it was the kind of effort that the Oilers want to be known for going forward.
“We’re building character,” he said. “We’re building our identity for the future. We’re trying to become a team that’s hard to play against. And if we keep it simple and play hard, we should be in every game even in this situation with four guys up in the last two days.”
Stempniak broke the deadlock for Phoenix with just 47 seconds remaining in the first period. He took a nice little chip pass from Lauri Korpikoski and held off Andrew Cogliano to slip the puck under Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
The Coyotes went up 2-0 just past the midway point of the second on a controversial goal. Vrbata sent Whitney in on a partial breakaway and he looked to have stuffed the puck between Khabibulin’s pad and the post. It was called a goal on the ice and a review was ruled inconclusive with the original call standing.
Edmonton had a great chance to get back into the game early in the third as Andrew Cogliano was awarded a penalty shot after being slashed by Keith Yandle on a breakaway attempt. However, he was not able to beat Bryzgalov.
Minutes later Cogliano received the puck on the doorstep with a wide-open net but lost control of the puck.
Edmonton finally broke Bryzgalov’s shutout bid on its seventh power play opportunity six minutes into the third as Paajarvi fired a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle past Bryzgalov. Teemu Hartikainen earned an assist on the play for a point in his first NHL game.
The Coyotes got some insurance with eight minutes remaining with Oiler Linus Omark in the penalty box on a suspect diving call as Vrbata’s shot off the post beat Khabibulin to make it 3-1.
Edmonton’s hard luck continued as they looked like they may have scored with 39 seconds left but it was ruled that the goaltender was interfered with even though no penalty was assessed.
Phoenix finishes off a four-game road trip in Vancouver on Friday. The Oilers wrap up a mini two-game homestand with a game against Colorado on Saturday.
Notes: It was the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. The Coyotes won the first two, with Edmonton coming back to capture the third…With a rash of injuries to skilled forwards like Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall, Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner, the Oilers had only nine forwards for Wednesday’s practice. They airlifted forwards Alexandre Giroux, Ryan O’Marra and Chris Vande Velde from Oklahoma City for the game, joining Teemu Hartikainen who was brought up a couple days earlier. Vande Velde and Hartikainen made their NHL debuts…The 12 forwards iced by Edmonton for the game had a combined 1,067 career NHL games. Coyotes captain Shane Doan has 1,108 by himself…Neither team had a player in the lineup who has scored 20 goals this season…Edmonton defenceman Theo Peckham (concussion) has started skating again and could be back with the team on Saturday…Even though they came into the game in 10th place in the NHL standings, the Coyotes special teams numbers are not very impressive, as they are 23rd on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill, only one spot ahead of Edmonton.