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Developments on the Coyotes trend mostly positive after win vs. Nashville

(L-R) Clayton Keller #9, Phil Kessel #81, Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23, Christian Dvorak #18 and Derek Stepan #21 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrate after Kessel scored a power play goal against the Nashville Predators during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on October 17, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just 17 seconds into Thursday night’s Coyotes game against the Nashville Predators, Arizona lost a defenseman for the second time in three games.

An audible “thwack” could be heard in the arena as a shot from the blue line caught Jordan Oesterle in the back of the head. He went down hard, didn’t move much for a few moments and eventually left on his own two feet, with lots of help and a lot of caution.

As one would expect, he didn’t return to the game.

“I saw him in between periods. He was pretty dizzy,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “Took one off the back of the head, had a bunch of stitches. He went to the hospital to get scanned, obviously, that’s precautionary. Hopefully it’s … he’s a little dizzy and he’s back. But yeah, it was a scary moment for us.”

The loss comes just a few days after Niklas Hjalmarsson, the team’s best defensive defenseman, went down with a lower body injury. That one sounded like it would be months, not days or weeks.

After Oesterle exited, there were plenty of positive takeaways from Thursday night’s game. The Coyotes beat the Predators, 5-2. The power play went 3-for-6. Phil Kessel scored twice. Christian Dvorak scored his third goal in two games.

Shots on goal favored Arizona, 32-25. Shot attempts were 56-50. Darcy Kuemper made 23 saves.

The Coyotes got their seventh point out of eight possible points in their last four games.

Two games into a week that will feature three contests (the third being a Saturday tilt with Ottawa), here are some things to know after the Coyotes beat the Preds:

The power play is clicking

This is far-and-away the most significant development the team could’ve asked for.

The Coyotes were 0-for-9 on the power play the first four games this season. But they’re 5-for-8 the last two games.

“I think we’re just more patient with the puck,” Nick Schmaltz said. “We’re not just rimming it around and we’re holding it, we’re supporting each other. Our entries have been a lot better, too, where we come in with possession.

“If you can get that possession off the entry, I think that’s huge, and then you can settle things down, work it around and then they get tired. And that’s when the seams and plays open up.”

Schmaltz credited chemistry as a unit and practice reps as reasons why they’ve gotten better.

The penalty kill is getting by

Without Hjalmarsson, the Coyotes’ penalty kill for the rest of the game on Saturday and all of Tuesday’s game killed off just six out of nine opposing power plays (66%), even though it hadn’t given up a goal this season before that when Hjalmarsson was in the lineup.

The negative trend halted on Thursday. The Coyotes killed off all three penalties they incurred against the Predators.

Personnel shorthanded included Kyle Capobianco, Jakob Chychrun and Alex Goligoski on the blue line.

“[Capobianco’s] filling in. [Chychrun], they don’t penalty kill,” Tocchet said. “I don’t think they’ve penalty-killed at all for us, and they took, I told you guys, a piece of the pie for [Hjalmarsson].

“I thought O [Oliver Ekman-Larsson] was great. I thought O, J.D. [Jason Demers] and Goose [Goligoski], the three were really good — and obviously Capi and Chych — but those three guys held it together. That’s a lot of minutes they had to play. And that’s tough sledding. That’s a tough team over there.”

That said, the Predators had the worst power play in the league last year. The Coyotes need to keep up on the PK with Hjalmarsson out for a while.

Phil Kessel got his first… and then his second

Kessel had plenty of scoring chances prior to Thursday, but no goals to show for it. That changed against Nashville as he scored twice, both times on the power play, for his first two goals as a Coyote.

“It feels nice to get one,” Kessel said. “Hopefully they start coming.

“You watch, we’ve had a ton of chances. I’ve had a bunch of chances. Our line’s had a bunch of chances, and eventually, they go in.”

He’s now at two goals and two assists for four points in six games this season.

Nick Schmaltz staying hot

Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak have been a dynamic pairing together on the second line for the Coyotes, and the latter of the two scored his third goal in two games on Thursday. Meanwhile, Schmaltz got hot recently and has stayed that way so far.

He had two assists on Thursday and has three goals with four assists for seven points in six games. All seven of those points, though, have come in the last four games.

“Him and Dvo really, the last three or four games, really got their game going,” Tocchet said. “I can tell, lot of chemistry. They’re defending well, too. They’re not just a one-way line. I think Dvo’s been great for us for four games now, like he’s been really, really good.

“[Schmaltz] was out for 10 months, right? And I think having a good training camp. I know his first couple games, he wasn’t happy with himself and sticking with it and you get rewarded for it.”

Schmaltz scored 14 points in 17 games last year for Arizona before missing the rest of the season.

“I think I’ve been building and getting better every game and feeling more confident with the puck,” Schmaltz said. “I think we’re getting a lot of chemistry as far as our line goes. We’re working for each other and know where each other are at. And the puck’s going in right now.”

LOOSE PUCKS

— Michael Grabner skated in his 600th NHL game.

— Darcy Kuemper made his 12th consecutive start allowing two or fewer goals. That’s a new franchise record.

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