GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ilya Bryzgalov nearly stopped Chicago’s top line by himself in Phoenix’s last game.
The rest of Coyotes did the dirty work against Alex Ovechkin and Washington’s first line, the brunt of it with their legs, chests, even faces.
Phoenix frustrated Washington’s top line with a flurry of blocked shots and Bryzgalov turned away most of the ones that got through, lifting the Coyotes to their fifth straight win, 3-2 win over the Capitals Monday night.
“We had the tennis balls out in practice, jumping in front of them,” Coyotes forward Scottie Upshall joked. “You know, (Lauri) Korpikoski jumped out there with his face on Ovechkin. It’s just doing what it takes to win games.”
Phoenix didn’t generate much offence in a game that was clunky from the moment Coyotes defenceman Derek Morris was called for tripping Ovechkin 19 seconds in.
Ray Whitney had a goal an assist and Radim Vrbata made the switch from goal-scorer to facilitor with two assists after scoring in three straight games. Martin Hanzal and Vernon Fiddler also had goals for the Coyotes, who moved atop the Pacific Division standings.
This one, though, was won in the defensive zone, where Phoenix seemed to spend most of the game while killing off five penalties.
Bryzgalov, as he has been during the winning streak, was steady, allowing one goal that didn’t carom off a teammate—more on that later—while stopping 29 shots. His teammates did the rest with their bodies, blocking a season-high 20 shots while holding Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin to one point.
“Great penalty killing was required, hard work ethic and sacrifice,” Bryzgalov said. “We did this with blocking shots and making some saves, and sometimes it was lucky. This is the key.”
The Capitals never seemed to get into a rhythm in the opener of a five-game road trip.
Washington’s first goal, by Marcus Johansson in the second period, came on a lucky break and Semin’s assist on the play accounted for the only point by the top line.
Matt Bradley helped the Capitals cut a two-goal lead in half with his fourth goal early in the third period, but the Capitals couldn’t get past Bryzgalov or Phoenix’s blocking brigade over the final 15 minutes, even after sending Ovechkin out as a fourth forward late.
“It was a pretty tough game, but I think we played well,” said Ovechkin, who took six shots. “But when you play well and lose, it’s going to look like you didn’t play well.”
Washington has been struggling to score goals during a recent lull, managing two or less in nine of its previous 13 games, including four combined the previous three games.
It didn’t figure to get better against the Coyotes, who have clamped down defensively and gotten stellar goaltending out of Bryzgalov since allowing 11 straight goals in a pair of ugly losses.
Washington at least got off to a good start, getting a goal by Johansson in the second period when his pass from behind the net hit Bryzgalov’s stick and caromed off Hanzal into the goal.
It didn’t provide the spark the Capitals had hoped, though.
Hanzal got it right back, scooping up a loose puck in the slot and wristing it past Michal Neuvirth 71 seconds later. Whitney put the Coyotes up 2-1 on a power play late in the period, one-timing a pass from Vrbata, and Fiddler made it a two-goal cushion early in the third on a give-and-go with Upshall.
Bradley answered with a one-timer just 40 seconds later after David Steckel worked the puck through the skates of two Coyotes defenders, but that was it for the Caps. They spent the final 2:26 on the penalty kill for Backstrom’s double-minor for high-sticking and couldn’t scramble to avoid their third straight loss.
“I think we had 13 shots on the power play after two periods,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We were moving it around and we looked like a power play. I thought for sure we were going to couple goals on it. Sometimes it’s not meant to be.”
Notes: Capitals D Mike Green was scratched after playing against the Kings on Saturday. He missed a game last week after being hit in the head by a puck against Pittsburgh on Feb. 6. … Coyotes D Ed Jovanovski, who’s battled injuries all season, was hit in the face with a puck in the second period, but later returned despite his jaw swelling up immediately.