Coyotes’ penalty kills, timely goals lead to much-needed win over Blues

Dec 31, 2019, 10:39 PM | Updated: Jan 1, 2020, 11:04 pm
Goaltender Antti Raanta #32 of the Arizona Coyotes makes a save on the puck as Brayden Schenn #10 o...
Goaltender Antti Raanta #32 of the Arizona Coyotes makes a save on the puck as Brayden Schenn #10 of the St. Louis Blues skates in during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 31, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The last game of the decade for the Arizona Coyotes carried considerable importance, and the team rose to the holiday occasion.

The Coyotes (22-16-4) didn’t want a win on Tuesday; they needed one, because their poor home record and three-game losing streak were both the wrong things to carry into 2020, when NHL hockey only gets more intense as the playoff race thickens. So Arizona beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions at home, 3-1, hours before the year 2019 came to a close.

“Nobody’s panicking in here, it’s our first three-game losing streak,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “We don’t really listen to the outside noise. We had to worry about our game — the details of our game.

“I just felt that we believed that we were going to win, and that’s what we need is that belief.”

Tuesday was a welcome turnaround from the game prior. On Sunday night against Dallas, Arizona had a 2-0 lead going into second intermission and eventually lost 4-2. Dating back to last season, the Coyotes’ identity has been defense and penalty killing, while defense lacked at times lately. So too did the “details.”

The response against the Blues included a perfect penalty kill — including the kill of a long 5-on-3 Blues power play — and only one goal allowed all night.

“That was a huge momentum (shift) for us right there,” Tocchet said of the 5-on-3. “That’s hard work there and after we killed it, we kind of got back in the game. I thought that the penalty kill was huge for us tonight.”

Antti Raanta started in goal for the Coyotes and stopped 38 shots as Arizona was out-shot 39-26. Jake Allen was in goal for St. Louis.

“It was really good,” Raanta said of the penalty kill. “I think that was probably the first or second 5-on-3 this year for me. … We took the middle away really well, and they really didn’t get the one-timers. So it made my life a little bit easier.

“I think that gives you the kind of little push when you can kill the 5-on-3, and it was almost two minutes. So that gives you a little bit more energy, and I think in the third period and it was kind of our game, and we got the confidence from the kill, for sure.”

A first period goal by Conor Garland was his team-leading 14th of the season and his fourth point in three games. After Tyler Bozak knotted the game at 1-1, the Coyotes stymied the Blues power play to set the table for Phil Kessel’s third-period goal to make it 2-1.

Late in the third, the Blues were called for a penalty on a delayed call. Arizona stalled and brought the puck back into its own zone multiple times, killing about a minute of clock with a lead before St. Louis finally touched the puck to stop play. Then, the Coyotes started a power play with only 2:32 left to play and a 2-1 lead. It was a great deal of insurance.

An empty-netter from Nick Schmaltz closed it out with a 3-1 final score.

“We’ve got a good team here,” Kessel said. “We work hard. We’re tough to play against and I think every night, we’re going to give them a close game.”

Arizona enters the New Year in second place in the Pacific Division, two points back of Vegas.

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Coyotes’ penalty kills, timely goals lead to much-needed win over Blues