GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a matinee affair that wasn’t short on offensive fire power, it was a defenseman getting dirty on the ice that proved to be the difference.
With little separating the Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes through the first 52 minutes of Saturday’s slugfest, Keith Yandle displayed the first semblance of defense from either side, it just so happens that it came on the power play and in the offensive zone.
Following a shot from above the left circle by Radim Vrbata, Edmonton defenseman Jeff Petry attempted to clear the puck out of his own end. Instead, Yandle acrobatically dove to his right along the blue line and batted it down with his left hand to keep the play alive. Moments later, it was Yandle, who fittingly found Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the game-winning tally — a wrist shot from the point underneath the right arm of former Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera — as the Coyotes managed to survive by a score of 5-4.
“A little bit of a shortstop,” Yandle jokingly said of his dive. “It was just something you try to do to keep it in. It was kind of all or nothing. I was kind of lucky to keep it in.”
In addition to his dive and subsequent feed on the game-winning goal, Yandle lit the lamp earlier in the third period for the first time in 2013. In fact, Phoenix’s blue liners led the way offensively Saturday, scoring four of the team’s five goals.
“If you look at our back end, every guy can jump in, make good passes and make good plays,” said Yandle. “I thought we did that tonight. We have to be a little bit better [at the defensive end], but I thought we were okay.”
Aside from the four defenseman-powered goals — David Schlemko, Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone and Yandle all scored — the Coyotes showed yet again their ability to play from behind.
After a sluggish opening period — potentially caused by the rare 12:00 p.m. MST start time — saw Dave Tippett’s squad trail 1-0 heading into the first intermission, the Coyotes managed to find their legs, scoring three goals in the first five minutes and 37 seconds of the second frame.
“It was a weird game,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We started off pretty slow, but we talked about getting pucks to the net in the second and third. I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Phoenix’s five goals on the afternoon tied a season-high but took on a little more meaning given that they came against LaBarbera.
LaBarbera, who appeared in 69 games with the Coyotes from 2009-13, had an eventful, albeit unsuccessful return to the Valley. The veteran netminder allowed five goals on 27 shots against his former mates and was briefly pulled after allowing two goals in a span of 27 seconds early in the second period.
“He’s not a friend,” Yandle joked. “No, he’s great guy. He’s a guy who works hard. It’s good to see him out there. Obviously, it’s better when you win. For us, we know he’s a big goalie and a good goalie. Getting people and pucks to the net were our main objectives, try to disrupt him. If he sees it, he’s going to save it. He’s that good. We tried to do that, and I think we did a good job.”
LaBarbera moved to 1-5-1 in seven career starts against Phoenix. His lone win came as a member of the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 6, 2005.
The Coyotes also did a nice job capitalizing on man advantages when it counted most. Both of the team’s third period goals came during power play opportunities — breaking a 2-of-18 spell dating back to an Oct. 18 loss at Anaheim.
A win is a win, unless it comes in a manner that draws the ire of Dave Tippett. Phoenix might have earned its two points, however 11 goals allowed in two games didn’t sit well with the Coyotes head coach.
“We’re going to rewrite history,” Tippett said sarcastically when asked if he liked coaching in high-scoring affairs featuring multiple blown leads. “Our game’s not in very good shape, actually. I love scoring some goals, that’s all great. But, you can’t give up four or five goals a night. That is a recipe for disaster.”
While defensively the Coyotes were porous at best Saturday, Tippett admitted that the first two goals were probably on Mike Smith.
Smith, who has now given up eight goals in his last 80 minutes of action between the pipes, surrendered an ugly one in the first period, as Edmonton’s Tyler Pitlick whiffed on a wrist shot from the right circle only to recover and fire again past the 31-year-old’s right pad and into the back of the net. For Pitlick, it was his first career NHL goal. For Smith, it was a sign of things to come.
After the Coyotes’ trio of goals in the second period, Smith gave up a bad rebound in front of the net on a shot by Ben Eager. Oilers left winger Ben Acton came charging hard to the net and calmly poked it five-hole to cut the 3-1 deficit in half.
“The first two I thought were not good goals,” said Tippett. “I mean Smitty, the first one was almost from the corner. And the second one was a rebound laying there. You’d like to see our defensemen wrap that up.”
He Said It:
“Don’t get me wrong, I like winning. Anytime you can win, you should have a smile on your face. But I look at is as how we’re going to win long-term, and there’s just some things in our game that need to improve if we’re going to win long-term.” — Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett on his tempered enthusiasm following the 5-4 victory
– With the win, the Coyotes kept their home point streak alive, pushing their Jobing.com Arena mark to 4-0-1 on the young season.
– Phoenix leads the NHL in second period (17) and third period (18) goals.
-Jason LaBarbera wasn’t the only former Coyote to make his return Saturday. Boyd Gordon, who played two seasons in Phoenix from 2011-13, was in typical form, winning 13 face-offs on the afternoon.
– Tim Kennedy, who was called up from Portland before Saturday’s game, found himself skating alongside Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal against Edmonton. He assisted on David Schlemko’s second period goal.
– Speaking of Hanzal, the Coyotes center found his way onto the score sheet yet again. His even strength goal 47 seconds into the second period was his fifth of the season and third in the past two games.
– Phoenix was without the services of Lauri Korpikoski (upper-body injury) and Rostislav Klesa (lower-body injury) Saturday. Center Jeff Halpern also left the game with an upper-body injury, although Tippett noted that the 37-year-old was just suffering from spasms.
The Coyotes (7-3-2) will take Sunday off before getting back on the ice Monday in preparation for their home contest against the Los Angeles Kings (7-4-0). The two Pacific Division rivals last faced one another Thursday night in a tilt that went Los Angeles’ way to the tune of 7-4. The puck drops at 7:00 p.m. MST and can be heard on KMVP 860 AM.