DENVER – Coyotes goalie Mike Smith paraded around the dressing room with a flashy replica of a championship belt slung over his right shoulder.
It was an easy giveaway for anyone wondering who the player of the game was for Phoenix.
Not that there was much room for debate.
Smith was cool under pressure as he stopped 39 shots to lift the Coyotes to a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.
“Smitty kept us in the game tonight,” said Radim Vrbata, who scored two goals against his former team.
That Smith did, turning in one sensational save after another with the Avalanche spending quite a bit of time in the Coyotes’ end. The 40 shots Smith faced were the most since the opener against San Jose when he saw 52 and gave up six goals.
“Strong goaltending,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We didn’t play as well as we would like, but our goaltender hung in there and battled hard for us and we found enough to win.”
Taylor Pyatt and Lauri Korpikoski also scored to help the Coyotes win their third straight game.
Ryan O’Reilly had the lone goal for the Avalanche, who drew a small crowd due in part to a storm that blanketed some areas of the Mile High City with nearly a foot of thick, wet snow.
The Coyotes had seven players with assists, including two by Ray Whitney. Vrbata sealed the win when he scored an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining.
That this performance came against his former team only made it sweeter.
“It’s always nice to score here,” said Vrbata, who had his second straight two-goal game. “But it’s a game like any other—try to help your team get a win and get some points.”
Phoenix didn’t take long to increase its lead as Korpikoski scored 24 seconds into the final period to make it 3-1. After a long shot bounced off the pads of Semyon Varlamov, Korpikoski zoomed in and as he was being pushed to the ice by Kyle Quincey, unleashed a shot into the right corner of the net.
That was more than enough for Smith, especially given the way he was playing.
He frustrated and flummoxed the Avalanche all evening.
“It’s hard to win hockey games when you’re not scoring goals,” Avs forward Milan Hejduk said. “We just have to keep playing the same way and eventually we’ll start scoring goals.
“When you put 40 plus shots at net every night, at some point you need to score more goals than one.”
The second period was mostly dominated by the goalies—until the final minutes, at least. Vrbata gave Phoenix a 2-0 lead after Avalanche defenceman Jan Hejda failed to clear the puck near the net. Vrbata swooped in, grabbed the puck and shot it over Varlamov.
Just 26 seconds later, Colorado pushed a shot past Smith when O’Reilly gobbled up a loose puck and tapped it in.
That after a period that featured quite a few big saves, including one by Smith on which he was completely in the net, only to somehow keep the puck from crossing the line.
Pyatt staked Phoenix to an early lead when he poked a shot past Varlamov midway through the opening period. It was Pyatt’s second goal of the season.
The Avalanche had several solid scoring chances later in the period, but Smith stonewalled a point-blank shot by Paul Stastny and later cast aside a drive from Matt Duchene.
O’Reilly was looking forward to skating against his older brother, Cal, who was acquired by Phoenix late last month. But Cal O’Reilly was scratched due to a groin injury.
The brothers had a chance to catch up the night before, going out to dinner with their father.
The O’Reilly siblings have faced each other once in their NHL careers, on Feb. 4, 2010, when Cal O’Reilly was with Nashville.
O’Reilly’s linemate, rookie Gabriel Landeskog, showed no lingering effects from an elbow to the head from Edmonton defenceman Andy Sutton last Friday. Sutton’s hit drew a five-game suspension from the NHL.
An appropriate punishment?
“It’s not my job tosay if it’s right or wrong,” Landeskog said at the morning skate.
The violent collision did teach Landeskog a valuable lesson: to stay alert at all times, especially in the corners.
“I should’ve known he was coming,” Landeskog said. “I should’ve been more aware of my surroundings.”
He was against Phoenix, even getting into a brief skirmish with Keith Yandle.
NOTES: Colorado forward Peter Mueller missed his eighth game this season with a head injury. Mueller sat out all last season because of a concussion. … The Avalanche are in the midst of playing 14 of 18 games at Pepsi Center. … Phoenix is 4-0-1 in its last five games.