‘Yotes Notes: Better goaltending stabilizing Coyotes
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes have held to the belief that if they just get better goaltending, their bottom line would improve. The last four games represent a small sample size, but Arizona has four points over that span and is 1-1-2, despite a tough road trip through Washington, Pittsburgh and St Louis.
“They’ve done a nice job here the last week or two,” coach Rick Tocchet said Friday. “They’ve given us a chance to win and you can see the confidence in the team a little bit. They’re really well-liked guys from our players and they want to do well in front of them.”
Backup Scott Wedgewood stopped 37-of-40 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss at Washington on Monday, and in his last three games, starter Antti Raanta has stopped 106 of 112 shots (.946 save percentage) and he owns a .920 save percentage this season in seven appearances.
Raanta said the team’s improved play is not just about better goaltending.
“The guys are doing a great job in front of me,” said Raanta, who is feeling no lingering effects of the muscle strain that sidelined him for three weeks. “They are taking the second opportunities away. As a goalie, that’s always a big help.”
When Brendan Perlini returned to the lineup on Oct. 26 from an upper-body injury, Tocchet was happy with his speed through the neutral zone and the chances he was getting, but he wanted him to work on other details deep in the offensive and defensive zones. Tocchet said Perlini has been a receptive student.
“He didn’t like his game in Pittsburgh (Tuesday) and we had breakfast and we talked about it,” Tocchet said. “In St. Louis, it was almost like he took what we talked about… and he just had a really good hockey game.”
Perlini had two goals in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Blues on Thursday, logging 13:32 of ice time.
“I probably should have played him more,” Tocchet said. “I told him I want to get him out there more. He’s asking questions and he’s starting to get it, too.”
Perlini said the coaches have never questioned his work ethic. It’s more about sharpening details and playing with better technique.
“We were working on some stuff after practice today,” Perlini said Friday. “Sometimes, it’s just little things like a body position, just having the inside position on the guy. It’s very minute things but it makes a big difference.”
Coyotes fans may never forgive Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler for his refusal to sign with the Coyotes after they drafted him fifth overall in 2004. Those feelings aside, Wheeler may be the least talked about superstar in the NHL today.
Entering Saturday’s game at Gila River Arena, Wheeler was tied for fourth in the NHL in points with 21, and the Jets (8-4-3) were in second place in the Central Division with 19 points. He has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his past six games.
“He’s really good in the neutral zone, a big speed guy,” Tocchet said. “He’s got a great shot. He’s really solidified that power forward [position].”
Friday was the 32nd anniversary of the death of former Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh, who crashed his Porsche 930 into a concrete wall near an elementary school outside Philadelphia at 5:41 a.m., going about 80 miles per hour. He was taken off life support the next day.
Tocchet was Lindbergh’s teammate.
“It was one of the worst moments in our life,” Tocchet said of himself and his teammates. “We were on a big roll and Pelle was one of the best goalies in the league and he might have been the most well-liked guy there ever was.
“It just shook our team and it obviously had a lasting effect on all of us and the organization.”
Tocchet was in his second NHL season with the Flyers. He was just 21.
“It affected me,” he said. “If I didn’t have Dave Poulin and Tim Kerr and Brad McCrimmon — all these great teammates helped the young guys through it. That was the key. We were at Dave Poulin’s house a lot, talking about it and I think that helped. It was therapeutic for everybody.”
Tocchet can’t help wonder what might have been with Lindbergh. The Flyers had already won 10 games in a row before his death (the streak stretched to 13) and they finished first in the Wales Conference with 110 points.
“We had a pretty darned good team,” Tocchet said. “The sky was the limit. I don’t think it’s too shocking to say that he could have been a Hall-of-Famer.”
— Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Niklas Hjalmarsson did not practice Friday. Tocchet has not ruled out Goligoski for Saturday’s game. If he does not play, Joel Hanley would likely take his place.
— The Coyotes re-assigned forward Michael Sislo to the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League on Friday.
— The Coyotes haven’t won a game in regulation through the first 18 games this season. That is one game short of matching the NHL record of 19 set by the Calgary Flames in 1999.
Jets at Coyotes
When: 8 p.m., Saturday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: KTAR News 92.3 FM
Records: Coyotes — 2-13-3. Jets — 8-4-3
Injury report: Coyotes — D Jakob Chychrun (knee) is out indefinitely. D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) and D Alex Goligoski (lower body) are day-to-day. Jets — F Mathieu Perreault (knee) has resumed skating but is still week-to-week.
Jets scouting report: C Mark Scheifele has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in his past six games. … G Connor Hellebuyck is 8-1-2 this season with a 2.44 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. His 10-game season-opening point streak was the longest in franchise history, and he was the only goalie in the league who had not lost in regulation in 10 or more starts before Friday’s loss at Vegas.