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Arizona Coyotes bested by surging Flames in return to home ice

Brad Richardson #15 of the Arizona Coyotes faces off against Sean Monahan #23 of the Calgary Flames during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Flames defeated the Coyotes 5-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes’ return home from a long road trip resulted in a loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night, 5-2.

The Flames have won seven of their last eight games, and now have 38 points in the standings, two points behind the Coyotes. Because of a 6-3 Oilers loss on Tuesday to Carolina, Arizona (16-11-4) remained tied with Edmonton at 40 points for first place in the Pacific Division. Still, the race for first place in the Pacific has three teams bunched tightly together.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, got off on the wrong foot after coming back from a road trip that saw them take six out of eight possible points.

“We didn’t give up. We still had a bunch of shots,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “But we gave them two or three goals right off the bat. You’re chasing the game.”

Shots were 48-29 in favor the Coyotes. As measured by NaturalStatTrick, scoring chances were 32-18 Arizona. Antti Raanta started in net for the Coyotes and made 24 saves, being bested by Cam Talbot on the other end. The narrative was split as to who was to blame for the loss.

“We didn’t quit so that’s a good thing,” Raanta said. “But we can’t win games with that kind of goaltending. I need to be much better and that’s pretty much how the game went. I couldn’t make the timely saves, and that’s the result.”

Derek Stepan didn’t seem to agree.

“He didn’t get much help to start, and he made some big saves for us, too,” Stepan said. “That’s just who he is. That’s the kind of person he is, but I’m not going to give him that credit tonight. He’s been really strong for us the last few games.”

Jakob Chychrun didn’t, either.

“It’s tough,” Chychrun said. “You hate to do that to our goalies, who they’ve been there for us all year. You hate to do that to him, and they deserve better. So we’ve got to be better for them.”

So what happened in front of Raanta? In the opening minutes, a Michael Grabner scoring chance looked like a sure goal as he got Talbot to move out of position, but Grabner’s shot hit the post. Moments later, a turnover in the defensive zone by Arizona resulted in a Calgary goal.

It didn’t get much better from there.

Raanta wasn’t perfect, but neither was the team as a whole. Michael Frolik (turnover), Johnny Gaudreau (lost faceoff by ARI), Zac Rinaldo (turnover), Sean Monahan (blown coverage) and Milan Lucic (PK) all scored, assisted either directly or indirectly by mistakes from Coyotes skaters, however big or small.

There was some newness to the Coyotes’ lineup, too. The news that top-pairing defenseman Jason Demers was out week-to-week with an injury on Tuesday meant Ilya Lyubushkin, who normally plays on the bottom pairing, was up top with Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a right-handed shot.

Aaron Ness slotted into the lineup and played with Jordan Oesterle on the bottom pairing. Demers joined Niklas Hjalmarsson as two important defensemen on the shelf.

“Guys want ice time and guys want to play, they’ve got to start proving it,” Tocchet said. “We need some guys to step up here. You know what I mean? And it’s tough on Ness, he hasn’t in played in seven or eight games. So give him a little bit of a break. But we need some guys to step up and we need some guys that don’t play usually as many minutes to step up.

“J.D. and Hammer, they’re a big part of our D, but we’re not going to have them for a while. So we’re going to have to have some people step up here. You can’t hide. Maybe we look down to the minors and grab a couple guys up here. But we’ve got to make sure that guys are ready to play.”

In the forward grouping, the Coyotes had Christian Fischer with Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz for some time, while Conor Garland was with Michael Grabner and Brad Richardson. Of course, lines can be fluid throughout the course of the game.

Chychrun and Phil Kessel each scored their seventh goals of the season, the latter coming with 0:32 remaining in the game, on the power play.

The Coyotes are now 7-7-1 at home this season. Their point total of 15 in home games this year was the third-worst in the NHL at time of this writing, although not all teams have played the same number of home games so far. Arizona is 1-3-1 in its last five home games.

“We had our chances and I thought we shot a lot of pucks … in the [goalie’s] stomach,” Tocchet said. “And I felt there’s a second effort to get those loose pucks — I don’t know if they were there. I didn’t see the tenacity. We had some chances, don’t get me wrong. But to me, we have to figure out, coming home, our lack of preparation. Maybe it’s on me to do some different things.”


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