GLENDALE, Ariz. — It didn’t matter how it transpired Thursday night, that part of the equation wasn’t so important to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Losers of a season-high four in a row, a tally in the left-sided column of standings was the only objective regardless of how it came about against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.
Phoenix’s quiet desperation inspired a vintage performance from goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped all 28 shots he faced in a much-needed 1-0 victory at Jobing.com Arena. For Smith, it was his first shutout since April 6, 2013, when he blanked the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-0 win.
“The last week or so, I’ve felt better about my game,” Smith said. “I’ve had a different mindset. I think it’s easy to get down on yourself and get negative when things aren’t going your way or how you’re supposed to go. It kind of kept building and building.
“Finally, it wasn’t any fun anymore to be like that. I think I just brought a mindset to the rink to just enjoy the game and to be more positive. It’s definitely helped me have more energy.”
Smith wasn’t alone in snapping the four-game skid, as he had plenty of support from the Coyotes’ special teams units.
Antoine Vermette provided the necessary offense with a first period goal on a power play, his 13th of the season, and Derek Morris, David Moss, Martin Hanzal, Jeff Halpern, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek shined during seven flawless penalty kills, as Phoenix improved to 2-0-1 in 2013-14 against their new Pacific Division foe.
“It was a hard-fought game all the way through and choppy with all of the penalties,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “We’re a team that’s trying to build our game and gain some confidence or earn some confidence in game like that. There are a lot of parts of our game that showed — a shutout from Smitty, our penalty killing was very good. It was a hard-fought game, which I think is good for our group right now.”
With the win, Phoenix moved to 7-1-1 this season when facing Western Canadian opponents.
After being notified that he had been left off of Team USA’s Olympic roster, Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle suffered from a bit of a mental letdown during the early portion of January.
But it appears the drop in performance was only temporary for the two-time All-Star. Yandle assisted on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at St. Louis and was up to his old tricks against the Canucks Thursday night.
On Phoenix’s second man advantage of the opening period, Yandle hustled not once, but twice to keep the puck from escaping the offensive zone. Following the second occurrence, Yandle found a wide open Antoine Vermette on a pretty slap pass. Vermette did the rest, trickling a wrister by Canucks’ rookie goaltender Eddie Lack.
The Coyotes have now recorded points in 18 of 20 games this season in which Yandle has recorded at least one helper.
Fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek returned Thursday after a 13-game absence, and while he only spent a little more than 16 minutes on the ice, the nine-year veteran played a key role on the Coyotes’ penalty kill.
“He kept shifts real short,” Tippett said of Michalek. “He played a real steady, simple game. A hard-working simple game is what he does. He defends well and blocks shots. He’s a hard player, and we missed that back there.”
Martin Hanzal did his part on special teams as well, but he also had a hand in three of the Coyotes’ 10 penalties — none bigger than the four-minute double minor he took with just over four minutes to play in the contest.
Fortunately, Phoenix bailed out its first-line center, allowing just one Vancouver shot during its final kill of the night.
Hanzal leads the Coyotes with 59 penalty minutes, 24 minutes more than his next closest teammate (Keith Yandle and Paul Bissonette).
He Said It:
“That’s the challenge of being a competitor. You’re hard on yourself and put a lot of pressure on yourself. Through the years, you try to learn how to manage your highs and lows. You hear it quite a bit and it may sound cliché, but I think it’s very effective as a player to stay in that zone, try to improve and keep it simple.” — Coyotes center Antoine Vermette on battling the emotions of a personal or team slump
– Vermette’s goal marked the sixth straight game the Coyotes have scored with the man advantage.
– Ekman-Larsson’s assist on Vermette’s tally extended his points streak to four games — his longest of the campaign.
– In their last three games, the Canucks have recorded a combined 162 penalty minutes.
– Phoenix has pitched a shutout in each of its last two wins. Of the team’s first 20 victories on the season, none came by way of the shutout.
– The Coyotes moved to 12-2-3 when leading after two periods in 2013-14.
Phoenix (22-16-9) will look to win back-to-back games for the first time in 2014 when the New Jersey Devils (20-18-11) come to Jobing.com Arena Saturday night. Because of last season’s lockout, the two teams have not played one another since Dec. 15, 2011. The puck drops at 6:00 p.m. MST and the action can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.