Antoine Vermette gathered with friends and family on Tuesday after the Coyotes arrived in Montreal to face the Canadiens on Thursday.
Montreal is about 140 miles from Vermette’s hometown of St. Agapit, Quebec. Maybe a little home cooking will serve to revitalize the Coyotes center. Through 12 games this season, he hasn’t played the reliable all-around game that coach Dave Tippett has come to expect.
“Antoine and I have been talking a little bit and he knows he has to get his game back to a higher level,” Tippett said. “Last night, I thought he competed at a little higher level. He was more engaged in the game which is hopefully a step forward.”
Vermette may have been too engaged. He took three penalties in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn on Monday. Frans Nielsen cashed in on the Islanders’ first power play to give New York a 1-0 lead just 4:51 into the first period.
More concerning, however, has been Vermette’s lack of production. He has just two assists after signing a two-year, $7.5-million deal.
“He’s an all-around player that touches different parts of the game, but along with that you have to ask to what are you contributing to the game?” Tippett said. “One of the things he brings is the ability to make good plays. I think he’s been getting back up to speed after a slow start but he has to have more impact throughout the game.”
A lower-body injury suffered seven games into the season has played a role in Vermette’s struggles, but Tippett dismissed the idea that Vermette is also struggling to find motivation after winning a Stanley Cup last season with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I never question his commitment level or willingness to do what he needs to do,” Tippett said. “He just needs to pick it up a notch.”
GROSS’S NET WORTH
If you needed a clear example of defenseman Nicklas Grossmann’s worth to the defense, look no further than the Coyotes penalty killing unit.
With Grossmann in the lineup, Coyotes opponents were 7-47 on the power play (14.9 percent). Since Grossmann left a game against the New York Rangers on Nov. 7 with a lower body injury, opponents are 6-21 (28.6 percent).
“You think we miss him there?” Tippett asked, sarcastically, noting how much the Coyotes miss Grossmann’s physical presence around the net.
Grossmann skated with the team on Tuesday, but Tippett sounded doubtful that Grossmann would play in either of the two games remaining on the trip — Thursday in Montreal and Saturday in Winnipeg.
Philip Samuelsson drew into the lineup in place of Stefan Elliott on Monday as Tippett tried to find a big body to replace Grossmann.
— After managing just three points in his first seven games, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has 10 in his last 11 and also has a career-high six-game point streak. Ekman-Larsson has topped 26 minutes of ice time in every game since Grossmann was sidelined, a burden that Tippett would like to lessen soon.
— Montreal will always be special for Ekman-Larsson. The Canadiens home arena, the Bell Centre, was the site of the 2009 NHL Draft where the Coyotes selected him sixth overall.
— Goalie Mike Smith will face the Canadiens on Thursday. Goalie coach Jon Elkin was expected to join the team in Montreal to get some work in with Smith and backup Anders Lindback, who played against the Islanders.
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