GLENDALE, Ariz. — League realignment might have temporarily separated them, but there’s no denying that the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars entered their class at Jobing.com Arena still very familiar with one another.
The two former Pacific Division foes met Tuesday night for the first time in 2013-14 and picked up more or less right where they left off last season.
After a tight, scoreless first period, Phoenix managed to get on the scoreboard first, as center Antoine Vermette turned a battle along the boards into a nifty, back-handed breakaway goal past Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen. For Vermette, it was his ninth goal in 10 games and his team-leading 21st of the year.
A little over three minutes later, Dallas responded with a goal of its own, as Shawn Horcoff managed to sneak in a no-look, back-hander from the slot underneath the left pad of Mike Smith for a power play tally.
With the game knotted at one heading into the final period, puck possession was of the utmost importance.
The Coyotes, however, failed to receive the memo.
Phoenix attempted to clear possession out of its own zone during an early-period line change, but the cross-ice pass never made it to center ice, as it was knocked down by the side boards.
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle attempted to make a play on the fluttering, black disc but to no avail. Instead, Stars center Ryan Garbutt arrived first at the puck, and after skating into the offensive zone left a well-timed pass for a trailing Antoine Roussel. Untouched, Roussel fired a wrist shot from the slot that beat Smith over his left shoulder with relative ease to give Dallas its first lead of the evening.
“We made just a couple of mistakes,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “And those couple of mistakes cost us. They got the power play goal to tie it back up. That’s a big goal. We made one more mistake and it happens.”
Garbutt would record a tally of his own, scoring on the empty net with 26.7 seconds remaining, as the Stars held on to a 3-1 victory in front of a crowd of 12,257 fans.
“I didn’t think we had enough players play well enough to win this game,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said. “It’s as simple as that. We lost too many battles and made too many mistakes with the puck. We didn’t really give ourselves a chance.”
For the Stars, the win was their first in Glendale in their last five tries dating back to Oct. 25, 2012.
For the second consecutive outing, Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith did everything possible he could to keep his team in the hockey game. Easy saves, tough saves, it didn’t matter Tuesday. Smith recorded 37 saves in a losing effort — one he had no business being on the wrong side of.
In a 60-minute affair that saw the Coyotes backed up in their own zone far too often, Smith remained undeterred by the constant pressure.
The 37-save performance marked just the second time in 2014 that’s Smith has gone back-to-back games allowing two goals or less.
“When you waste a little performance from him, it’s tough,” said Doan. “He played great. We didn’t find a way to generate enough offense.”
Consistency continues to elude Phoenix, who came out rather flat after taking a brief one-goal lead in the second period.
Part of that was a hungry Dallas squad and part of that was simply a lack of execution on the Coyotes’ part — especially at the offensive end, as they were outshot 40-28.
“It’s about execution,” said Tippett. “It’s about winning one-on-one battles and execution and doing the right things with the puck that allow you attempts at the net. When you’re not doing either, your attempts go down.”
Additionally, while the Coyotes made as many trips to the sin bin Tuesday night as they did in their 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend, this time around those trips proved to be far more costly.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek found his way to the penalty box on two occasions — both coming within the first two minutes of the first and second periods. Fellow defensemen Derek Morris and Keith Yandle were also whistled for infractions in the loss. Morris’ questionable hooking penalty set up the Stars’ first goal of the night, and Yandle’s hook later in the frame put an end to Phoenix’s first man advantage of the evening with over a minute still to spare.
“We got on our heels with the penalties we took,” said Tippett. “They certainly got momentum and were able to put pucks on net. I thought the call on Morris was a soft call. I thought [David] Moss got pulled down on [a short-handed opportunity], but there wasn’t a call there. You know it’s going to be a tight game. Every play is critical.
“Whether it’s a penalty or right before they scored the first goal, we got the puck on our stick. All we had to do is get the puck down the ice. We don’t do that, and it ends up in the back of the net. Those are the critical plays.”
He Said It:
“I think we played more of a 60-minute game, but we just weren’t good enough. It wasn’t like we were good for most of the game, and then bad for 10 minutes. We just didn’t execute well enough for the whole game. It happens.” — Shane Doan
– With the loss, Phoenix failed to recapture the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. The Coyotes have set in ninth place or worse since Jan. 9, 2014.
– Dave Tippett moved to 8-3-1 vs. the Stars since coming taking over on Phoenix’s bench before the 2009-10 season.
– Antoine Vermette’s goal extended his points streak to a career-high eight games — which ties Shane Doan for the team record in 2013-14.
– Fourth-line winger Paul Bissonnette skated for a grand total of one minute and 45 seconds in the loss.
– Before Shawn Horcoff’s power play goal, Phoenix had killed 17 of its last 18 power plays dating back to a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 18.
– The Coyotes suffered their first regulation loss when wearing their black jerseys this season. Previously, Phoenix was 6-0-1 when opting taking the ice in its alternative uniforms.
Phoenix (26-10-10) closes out the home portion of its pre-Olympic schedule Friday night when the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks (34-10-14), come to Jobing.com Arena for the second and final time in 2013-14. Chicago has already won the first two meetings between the two teams this season, including a 5-2 rout in Phoenix back on Nov. 30, 2013. Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. MST and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.