ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Phoenix Coyotes turned their early penalties into a positive and created momentum for a satisfying victory.
Scottie Upshall had two goals and an assist and Ed Jovanovski scored, giving the Coyotes enough to beat the Wild 4-2 on Wednesday.
“We weathered the storm,” coach Dave Tippett said.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned to the Wild lineup to play 14 minutes after a 104-game absence, the product of lingering post-concussion symptoms, but his presence wasn’t enough to stop the Wild’s fifth loss in their last six games.
Lauri Korpikoski added an empty-netter for the Coyotes, who matched the NHL’s longest winning streak of the young season in November with seven straight victories and have rebounded from two losses in a row, including a 3-0 decision at Nashville on Tuesday night.
They took seven penalties in that game—six were stick-related infractions—that yielded a pair of power-play goals for the Predators. Just 34 seconds into this one, Ray Whitney was called for hooking.
Then, less than 2½ minutes later, Vernon Fiddler took high-sticking and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls to give the Wild a four-minute power play. Tippett was caught by a TV camera shaking his head with a sick look on his face, but his team emerged from the extended penalty kill unscathed and took the lead in the final minute of the first period when Jovanovski knocked in a slap shot by Adrian Aucoin through traffic.
“We just had to test our resolve,” Tippett said.
Early in the second period, Shane Doan—who has five assists in his last four games—streaked up the left side and made an eagle-eye cross-ice pass with his backhand to a trailing Upshall with two Wild skaters trying to converge. Upshall wound up from top of the right circle and zipped the puck past Jose Theodore for a 2-0 lead.
“I thought everyone did the little things tonight,” Upshall said.
That proved to be enough for goalie Jason LaBarbera, who gave up several long rebounds in his first start in three weeks but made 33 saves. He, too, was happy to see the Coyotes recover from their rough start.
“I was like, ‘What are we doing?'” LaBarbera said. “We talked before the game about not taking penalties, and then we’re down with four penalties right away.”
The Wild spent six of the first seven minutes on a power play but couldn’t put together any kind of a threat. Bouchard found a rhythm on a line with Marty Havlat in the third period, but the late push wasn’t enough.
Matt Cullen’s first even-strength goal of the season ended a scoreless stretch of 118 minutes, 15 seconds for the Wild and cut the deficit to 2-1.
After Upshall’s second score—a flukey shot that appeared to hit Wild defenceman Marek Zidlicky’s hand—Mikko Koivu scored on a quick turnaround shot from a behind-the-net pass with 1:06 left to make it 3-2.
“Getting pucks to the net, getting traffic, creating the way we did—I think there’s more upside there, too,” Cullen said. “Tonight was by no means our best game, but we’re showing signs of becoming a better team.”
The best moment for Minnesota was early in the first period when Bouchard entered the game to a hearty cheer. He was on the ice for the first two Phoenix’s goals, but after some rusty shifts he found some steam down the stretch.
“I believe that he can only get better from this point,” coach Todd Richards said. “He made some great plays out on the ice, finding men. He set Marty up perfectly in the third period there.”
Richards said he likes Bouchard and Havlat together because they think alike and are good at those “little give-and-go passes” that have become so important in the league these days.
“I felt all right. For sure I would’ve liked to start with a win,” Bouchard said. “Personally it was good to be back out there. I was a little excited, a little nervous.”
NOTES: The Wild entered the game with the league’s second-ranked power play, with a conversion rate better than 24 per cent. … The Coyotes won their fifth straight game against the Wild. … The Coyotes are 9-0-1 when leading after two periods. … The Wild allowed 17 shots ongoal in the first period, a season high. … Jovanovski had a hat trick on Nov. 3 against Nashville. That’s the only other game he’s scored in this season. … Upshall has four goals in his last five games. … LaBarbera’s last start was at Chicago on Nov. 10, nine games ago. He gave up only one goal in victory. … The Wild are 216-155-56 with Bouchard in the lineup. … The Wild managed 30 or more shots for the third straight game, the first time they’ve done that this season. … Havlat, who had one assist, has 17 points in his last 14 games. “Could’ve had about three or four goals himself,” Richards said. … Theodore started back-to-back games for the first time this season.