Goaltending, defense fail Coyotes in loss to Canucks
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s a good thing there are only five U.S.-born players on the Coyotes’ current roster. Hockey-related blessings will be hard to name on American Thanksgiving.
The Coyotes had a chance to escape the NHL’s cellar on Wednesday when they hosted the Vancouver Canucks at Gila River Arena. Vancouver came in sporting a league-worst 1-6-1 road record. Instead of jumping on a confidence-challenged team, the Coyotes fell behind early in a 4-1 loss, thereby falling four points behind the Canucks in the ignominious race for the Western Conference’s bottom slot.
Wednesday’s loss will probably be viewed as a game in which goalie Mike Smith simply didn’t give his team a chance to win. That perspective is fair since Smith stopped just 13 of 17 shots and saw his night end when Alex Burrows scored from the half wall for a 4-1 lead at 6:49 of the second period.
“I was awful,” Smith said. “I was sleeping right from the first goal.”
A deeper look at the Coyotes, however, will show that the defensive zone play was just as brutal, and it started with Arizona’s best defenseman.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (one assist in his last nine games) got too cute with a breakout attempt early in the first period to begin a night full of follies. As Ekman-Larsson collected the puck while skating behind his own net, he tried a blind, back pass that Canucks center Bo Horvat intercepted at the right circle. Horvat found left winger Sven Baertschi all alone at the far post for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead at 3:08 of the first period.
The Coyotes tied the game when rookie center Christian Dvorak redirected defenseman Anthony DeAngelo’s shot past goalie Ryan Miller with right winger Anthony Duclair setting a perfect screen 58 seconds into the second period.
That tie was short-lived, though. Vancouver center Markus Granlund spotted right winger Loui Eriksson uncovered on the doorstep when Alex Goligoski blew an assignment and Eriksson’s flubbed, point-blank shot slipped between Smith’s pads for a 2-1 lead at the 3:18 mark.
Vancouver increased the lead just 17 seconds later when Horvat got behind DeAngelo on a rush up the middle, took a feed from Burrows and pushed a knuckleball between Smith’s arm and body for a 3-1 lead.
Burrows ended Smith’s night when he scored from the far boards on a shot that slipped under Smith’s leg. Smith had stopped 65 of his last 69 shots in the previous two games since returning from a left leg injury. DeAngelo and Goligoski were on the ice for all three of the Canucks’ second-period goals.
“There were parts of that game where we liked the way we played,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “Unfortunately, some of the mistakes and blunders were the ones that had the biggest effect on the game.”
The only feel-good part of the night came from Baertschi, who paid tribute to his former Portland Winterhawks teammate Craig Cunningham by putting “Cunny” on his stick tape.
Baertschi had a goal and two assists and looked at his stick after the goal to honor his former juniors teammate, who is still in critical but stable condition after collapsing before a Roadrunners game on Saturday.
“I wanted to play for him tonight and it worked out really well,” said Baertschi, who looked at his stick after his goal. “You want to help but you can’t. His family is with him and I know that he’s a fighter and he’s going to get through this.”
Baertschi said he first met Cunningham when he returned home from the World Junior Championship and Cunningham had just been traded to Portland in 2010, becoming Baertschi’s roommate.
“I walk in and he’s got no shirt on in the living room, staring at me,” Baertschi said, laughing. “The last few years it was tough to keep in touch but I’ll always remember the great times we had in Portland.
“I try to read stuff online and try to figure out exactly what’s going on. That’s the toughest. All you can do is pray for him and hope for the best.”