ARIZONA COYOTES

Coyotes rookie Clayton Keller ends drought with goal against Lightning

Dec 14, 2017, 10:36 PM
Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller, middle, celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning ...
Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller, middle, celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with Coyotes right wing Christian Fischer (36) and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Lightning defeated the Coyotes 4-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Clayton Keller’s rookie season was off to a fast start in October when he scored nine goals and 15 points en route to winning NHL Rookie of the Month.

He was red hot until, suddenly, he wasn’t anymore.

Keller, who just a season ago scored 21 goals in 31 games at Boston University, was showing in the early going of his first NHL season why he was the No. 7 overall pick in 2016. But entering Thursday, the 19-year-old had gone 17 games without a goal, scoring just six assists in that span.

“He’s been passing up a lot of shots, his game’s been off just a little bit sometimes,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “I think tonight, he was one of our better, positive guys. He shot the puck. It’s amazing when you shoot the puck and hopefully this will loosen him up. I thought it was a positive game for him.”

In the second period of a 4-1 loss to the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (who have a few prolific goal-scorers of their own), Arizona was on a power play. Keller received the puck on the left-hand side of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and he buried it.

Derek Stepan and Brendan Perlini were credited with the assists.

“It’s one or two passes, you beat their box and then you shoot it,” Tocchet said of the play setup. “It’s amazing when they do that instead of holding it, holding it, holding it, trying for the pretty play. It was two good quick passes, and then I call it ‘you go downhill.’ Keller shot the puck with people going to the net. It’s simple.”

Keller now has 12 goals on the season, tied with the Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat for second among NHL rookies. His 24 points are third among rookies behind the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal and the Canucks’ Brock Boeser.

Keller was dismissive when asked about ending the no-goal streak.

“I’m not really focused on my performance,” he said. “It’s a team game and we lost tonight so [the goal] doesn’t really matter to me.”

Either way, the drought is over for now.

LOOSE PUCKS

–During the game, the Coyotes announced that they had traded forward Michael Latta to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forward Ryan Kujawinski. Latta signed in the offseason as a free agent and had been playing with the Tucson Roadrunners (AHL). Kujawinski, 22, had been with the AHL’s Binghamton Devils.

–Stepan’s assist on Keller’s goal extended his point streak to seven games at Gila River Arena. In 13 home games this season, Stepan has registered 3-10-13.

UP NEXT

The contest against the Lightning was the first of a stretch in which the Coyotes will play nine out of 11 games at home. But despite getting to enjoy a couple weeks in their own building, Arizona will host some of the marquee names in the NHL.

The ‘Yotes face the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, Radim Vrbata and the Florida Panthers on Tuesday and Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals next Friday.

From there, they have upcoming games against the Avalanche, Maple Leafs and Ducks before the end of the calendar year.

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