GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager Don Maloney was at a crossroads before Thursday’s game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena. With seven games left before the NHL’s Feb. 29 trade deadline — against a murderer’s row of opponents — Maloney wasn’t sure which fork he would take when the player market opened for business.
“To be where we are in the thick of a playoff conversation is really great for everybody,” he said. “At the same time, I want to be here in March and April, too.
“What I’ve told a lot of teams is ‘let’s talk after the Washington game (on Monday). We’ve got three games against teams with the third, fourth and top records in the league. Let’s see where we are after that and we can have another conversation.'”
The Coyotes gave their GM a nudge toward the buyer’s market on Thursday. Rookie left wing Max Domi had two goals and one assist, rookie right wing Anthony Duclair had three assists, center Martin Hanzal had a goal and two assists, and the Coyotes scored six goals for the second straight game in a 6-3 win over the Stars.
The win was Arizona’s second straight and kept the Coyotes within four points of Nashville and Colorado for the Western Conference’s two wild card spots. The Coyotes have three games in hand on the Avalanche.
“That was a big win for sure because that’s a really good hockey team out there,” said Domi, who scored for the first time since Jan. 12 against Edmonton. “They really took it to us for the first 10, 11, 12 minutes and we were on our heels, but we found a way to get our legs going.”
Dallas entered the game 6-1-1 since the All-Star break, pulling the team within a point of Chicago for the Central Division and Western Conference leads. The Stars have the most goals in the NHL and Arizona coach Dave Tippett knew he was going to have to match Dallas’ frenetic pace with counter attacks, puck possession and sound defensive play.
For the first half of the first period, things weren’t going well. The Coyotes were a mess of turnovers and Dallas jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 9:38 mark off a turnover in their zone. Jamie Benn stripped Coyotes center Brad Richardson of the puck and caught defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson pinching. Benn fed right winger Patrick Sharp for a two-on-one with Tyler Seguin, and Sharp fed Seguin in stride on the right wing, allowing the NHL’s third-leading goal-scorer to bury his 31st of the year on a shot high to the stick side.
“You’re concerned about their skill and speed and they can hurt you if you give them outnumbered rushes and just play soft on the puck,” Tippett said. “We did that early.”
That’s when Tippett pushed his dynamic rookies into uncharted territory.
“We started playing Richardson’s line against Seguin and Benn and they (the Stars) were getting chances so I just said ‘if they’re going to get chances we might as well get some, too,'” said Tippett, who switched to the Hanzal, Domi, Duclair line against Benn, Seguin and Sharp.
“For Max and Duclair, that’s the first time we’ve really pushed them into playing against top players on a regular basis and they responded very well.”
They responded with speed, skill and highlight reel plays.
After Hanzal forced a turnover in the Arizona end and slipped the puck to Duclair, the rookie wing spotted Domi streaking up the left wing and hit him in stride. Domi got around Stars defenseman Jason Demers, deked goalie Antti Niemi to his knees and tucked the puck in the far side of the net for his 14th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1 early in the second period.
Domi. Duclair. Six points. And this.https://t.co/yts98uIKun
— NHL (@NHL) February 19, 2016
Duclair matched Domi’s speed late in the second period, when he outmuscled and outskated a pair of Stars to get to the net and put a shot off Niemi’s pad. The rebound came to a hard-charging Domi with a yawning net, and he banged it in for a 3-2 lead.
“That was ridiculous,” Domi said of Duclair’s play. “I thought I was going pretty fast and then he just kind of blew by me. Not many guys can skate like that. He’s definitely a freak out there but it’s fun to watch.”
With a crop of talented players likely on the way next year, optimism around these parts is at all-time high, but the Coyotes aren’t content to look to the future just yet.
“For me, it’s all about collecting points and keeping ourselves in the fight for a playoff spot,” Tippett said.
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