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Coyotes lose game they once dominated, blow third-period lead

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn (2), goalie Antti Raanta, middle, and defenseman Kevin Connauton, right, pause on the ice after a goal by Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Panthers defeated the Coyotes 3-2. (AP Photo/Ross Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — At the end of the first period, the Coyotes led the Florida Panthers, 1-0. They led in shots on goal by a jaw-dropping margin, 23 to 7.

But a late Florida goal in the second period and a pair of quick goals early in the third period gave the Coyotes their first deficit of the game, and they never recovered. Arizona dropped its seventh straight game by a score of 3-2.

“Some head-scratching plays on those goals,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “It’s really disappointing for me. I’m kind of embarrassed for the fans because we had this game. We gave it to ’em. A couple individuals, I don’t understand what they’re doing on those plays. It’s probably as disappointed as I’ve been in this team all year. Tonight, for sure.”

Power plays and well-executed possessions in the first period gave the Coyotes plenty of chances on offense, which led to Arizona achieving a new season-high for the most shots in a period.

The lone goal in the first? A shot from the point by Clayton Keller that deflected off Christian Fischer. That was the only goal in the first 20 minutes, mostly because of strong play by Florida goaltender James Reimer.

Antti Raanta stopped what few shots he faced (he finished the night with 23 saves), and the Coyotes were in the driver’s seat.

“I thought we did a lot of good things for a period-and-a-half,” Derek Stepan said. “I thought we had good control of the game.”

In the second period, a less-dominant but still in-control Arizona team doubled its lead when Stepan slapped in a rebound on the backhand. It was 2-0 at 18:14.

But with 9.7 seconds remaining on the clock in the second period, Florida scored its first goal. Right off the face off — one Stepan was taking for Arizona — Nick Bjugstad made it 2-1.

“I’m going to take the onus on this one,” Stepan said. “I was not very good tonight and I cost ourselves a game tonight and it sucks, but as a leader you’ve got to play way better than I did.”

Two goals in the first six minutes of the third period — only 2:04 apart from one another — gave the Panthers their first lead of the night.

Florida went on to win, 3-2, despite Arizona out-shooting the Panthers 41-26.

“We’ll get it right, like I said,” Tocchet said. “We gotta weed some people out of here eventually and get this thing right.

“It’s a broken record. I can name 15 games where we had the game in hand and somehow the other team found a way to win and we found a way to lose it.”

LOOSE PUCKS

–Nick Merkley made his NHL debut on a line with Christian Dvorak and Zac Rinaldo. Merkley, 20, was drafted in the first round (30th overall) by the Coyotes in 2015. He skated for 13:30 (including 2:03 on the power play) and had no shots on goal. Merkley was also called for one penalty.

NEW GUY IN TOWN… ALREADY

The Coyotes traded goalie Michael Leighton and a 2019 fourth-round pick Tuesday to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Josh Archibald, goalie Sean Maguire and a 2019 sixth-round pick. Maguire was expected to report to the Ft. Wayne Comets (ECHL), but Archibald reported to the Coyotes just hours after the trade went down.

The Penguins were leaving Denver after their game on Monday night against the Avalanche when Archibald was traded, so he didn’t have far to go. And when he got to Arizona, he saw a familiar face: Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, who was an assistant with Pittsburgh last year.

“My relationship with Toc, being with [the Penguins] for the later part of last year, I got to know him quite well,” Archibald said. “He’s a great guy and a great coach. I’m excited to be here, play under him and try to do everything the right way.”

Archibald was scratched from the lineup when the Penguins were in Glendale just three days ago, but he made his season debut last year at Gila River Arena — his second career NHL game — and scored two goals, one of them shorthanded.

“Skating’s his best attribute,” GM John Chayka said. “You see Pittsburgh and Tampa come through here last week, you see what those teams were able to do with speed and how the game’s played. Just add some speed to our lineup, we feel like the acquisition cost was right, so we made the move.”

Archibald is under contract for this season and next season for an AAV of $675,000. He was a healthy scratch on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

The Coyotes have two more games on this homestand, both of which are before they get three days off for Christmas.

On Friday, Arizona hosts Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the first game of a back-to-back before hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

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