GLENDALE, Ariz. – Mike Smith made a couple of tough saves in the opening minutes and later skated out to the boards to clear a puck and set up a scoring chance at the other end.
In other words, he looked a lot like the goalie who led the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference finals a year ago.
So did the team in front of him.
Playing with confidence and poise for the first time this season, Smith stopped 17 shots, and the Coyotes were at their tight-checking best in front of him, leading to a 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
“He looked like Smitty out there,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “It’s the first game I’d say he looked confident all year.”
After a loose start to the season, the Coyotes have been steadily building toward a game like this, getting back to the stay-at-home style that led them to the conference for the first time as an NHL franchise last season.
Phoenix kept the Stars to the outside offensively most of the night while getting sticks and their bodies in the way whenever they tried to shoot, holding Dallas without a shot for a 17-minute stretch of the second period.
When the Stars did get a shot on goal, Smith was there to turn it away, notching his 20th career shutout and first this season.
Nick Johnson scored his third goal of the season and Mikkel Boedker his second for the Coyotes, who have points in four straight games.
“We felt we’ve played solid for stretches of games, we just haven’t finished a full 60 minutes,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “We were a little sloppy in the first period and Tip kind of gave it to us during the break. That second period was more like how we’re going to have to play to win.”
The Stars struggled most of the season offensively, coming into the game as one of the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams. Dallas has had some luck against the Coyotes, though, scoring seven of its 17 goals in two wins against them.
That trend ended abruptly Saturday night.
Unable to solve Phoenix’s push-it-to-the-outside defence or keep out of the penalty box, Dallas managed nine shots in the first two periods and allowed Phoenix to have seven power-play chances to lose for the fifth time in six games.
The Stars have been outshot in all nine games this season and are 1-14-2 in the second game of back-to-backs the past two seasons, including 0-3 this year.
“It comes down to penalties,” Stars defenceman Trevor Daley said. “It you’re going to be killing penalties, you’re not going to get many chances. It’s been kind of a theme around here right now.”
The Stars and Coyotes have been pretty familiar with each other in this lockout-shortened season so far, meeting three times the first two weeks, including consecutive nights.
Dallas had the edge in the first two games, beating Phoenix 4-3 in the season opener behind Jaromir Jagr’s two goals and two assists, then in a shootout by the same score Friday night.
The Pacific Division rivals traded a few good scoring chances in a scoreless first period after the short turnaround and a couple more in the second before Phoenix broke through on a play set up by Smith.
Seeing the Stars building a big rush, the Coyotes goalie raced out of his crease to clear a puck along the boards. As he skated backward toward his crease, the Coyotes built a rush of their own, with Lauri Korpikoski finding Johnson along the left wing for a wrister that clanged in off the post.
Defensively, Phoenix barely gave the Stars room to move, much less get off shots.
With the Coyotes clogging lanes and diving in front of pucks, Dallas had six shots in the first period and one in the second before getting off two in the final minute.
That made it a little tough on Smith to keep his concentration, but he didn’t mind.
“Obviously, it’s nice to not have much action, but mentality it was definitely a test,” Smith said. “It was nice to get through it.”
The Stars created problems for themselves with penalties, giving Phoenix multiple chances with an extra man.
Dallas managed to kill six penalties, but was worn down by the third period, when Boedker punched in a rebound after a shot from the point by Derek Morris bounced off Richard Bachman to the side of the crease.
The Coyotes spent over 11 minutes on the power play, the Stars only 41 seconds.
“We paid for it before and we paid it for now,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We’ve had internal discussions about too many penalties and we’re going to pay for it tomorrow in practice.”
Bachman finished with 32 saves.
Notes: Coyotes LW Raffi Torres had a solid game and played aggressively after returning from a 21-game suspension for a hit that knocked Chicago’s Marian Hossa from last season’s playoffs. … Dallas LW Ray Whitney missed a chance to play against his former team because of a lower-body injury that sent him to the injured list. Dallas recalled rookie RW Reilly Smith to fill his roster spot.