Clayton Keller’s first four-point game sparks Coyotes to third straight win
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes will not enjoy the rewards of a postseason berth, so they’re treating the final 25 games of the regular season as their playoffs, starting with a season-long seven-game homestand.
The playoffs are off to a good start.
Clayton Keller had a goal and three assists for the first four-point game of his NHL career, Brendan Perlini scored two goals in 19 seconds and Oliver Ekman-Larsson had three assists as the Coyotes won their third straight game, 5-2 over the Montreal Canadiens at Gila River Arena on Thursday.
Antti Raanta made 34 saves for Arizona, which is 4-0-1 in its past five games and 7-5-5 in 2018.
“On any given night, we’re getting production from certain guys, different lines, which is huge,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “And we’re getting goaltending. You have to have good goaltending to win in this league.”
The team’s seven-game homestand affords a major opportunity to string some wins and points together to build success and momentum for next season. Beginning with Montreal, just two of the next 12 opponents (Calgary and Minnesota) are currently in a playoff spot and none are among the top 10 teams in the NHL standings.
“We have to build something here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “We don’t know how many guys are going to be here next year, or even in two weeks after the trade deadline. We need to realize that if we play the right way we win hockey games.”
Keller gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead at 13:56 of the first period on a power play. Ekman-Larsson slipped him a pass to Keller at the left point and Keller beat goalie Carey Price from the top of the left face-off circle or his team-leading 17th goal of the season, and his third goal in his past five games.
On the play, Ekman-Larsson lost his stick so he skated to the bench to get a new one. It was Brad Richardson’s, which is about eight inches shorter, but Ekman-Larsson still made the key pass.
“My back is a little bit sore,” he quipped.
Before his pass to Keller on Keller’s goal, OEL said he was hoping the bench would hand him one of his own sticks (not Richardson’s) but he joked that equipment manager Tony Silva was too short to see him coming so he got Richardson’s instead. It’s about eight inches shorter.
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Perlini scored 57 seconds into the second period when Keller found him in the slot with a pass from below the goal line. Ekman-Larsson sprung Perlini on a breakaway on the same shift and he beat Price for a 3-0 lead at 1:16.
“I have scored on the same shift before but I don’t know that I have ever scored within 19 seconds,” Perlini said.
Montreal cut the lead to 3-2 on goals from Brendan Gallagher and Daniel Carr early in the third period, leading Raanta to skate to the bench and chew out his teammates.
“I got a little bit hot,” said Raanta, who made a spectacular glove save on Nikita Scherbak at 5:02 of the first period. “They pretty much laughed at it.”
The coaching staff wasn’t laughing, Tocchet said.
“I loved that,” Tocchet said.
The tongue lashing worked.
Tobias Rieder scored on a power play off a pass from Keller for a 4-2 lead at 10:46 of the third. Josh Archibald scored on a high backhand at 16:01 to put the game away at 5-2.