‘Complete effort’: Coyotes’ offense ignites in blowout win over Lightning
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes can take a deep breath.
After losing back-to-back games on the road this week and scoring a total of two goals in the process, they returned home to score seven goals against the second-best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a 7-3 win.
Their offense came alive. Conor Garland and Clayton Keller each scored two goals. Antti Raanta has a .945 save percentage in his last six games. Arizona has moved back into first place in the Western Conference Wild Card standings. And the Coyotes have five of the next six days off, all of them in the Valley.
The alarms have stopped blaring, even if only for a moment.
“To me, it was just a complete effort from everybody,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “Everybody contributed, was focused. Obviously when Tampa comes into town, and after the St. Louis game [on Thursday], you’re on guard, because you don’t want to be embarrassed. I just felt that we stuck to the gameplan. Our team is frustrating, because when we stick to the gameplan, we can be a good team.”
It was a big win for the Coyotes after they had won only five of their last 19 games.
Arizona (31-26-8) gave up a goal in the game’s first four minutes, but responded with two more of their own from Garland and Keller in the first period. The Coyotes made it 3-1 in the second period, but back-to-back goals by the Lightning quickly tied the game. A Brad Richardson score, assisted on a fantastic pass from his knees by Taylor Hall, gave Arizona a 4-3 lead going into second intermission.
THAT'S HOW YOU ANSWER, BRAD. pic.twitter.com/STEhEqI1DV
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) February 23, 2020
Keller, Garland and Derek Stepan all scored in that order in the third period, giving the Coyotes the final score of 7-3. Tampa’s goals came from Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point.
Raanta had 27 saves to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 34 saves as the Coyotes out-shot the Lightning 41-30. Arizona also won 54% of the faceoffs and went 2-for-5 on the power play.
Perhaps one big takeaway from the Coyotes’ win is the tenacity of the forwards to force turnovers, multiple of which directly resulted in key Coyotes scoring chances. Keller’s second goal came when Lawson Crouse forced a Tampa turnover at the Coyotes’ blue line, the puck popped out to Keller and he scored on a breakaway
“Well, [it’s] being aggressive,” Tocchet said. “Not swinging off your checks. You’ve got to go through people. Like I keep telling the guys: We’re not a big team, we don’t have to kill people. But you’ve got to go through people.”
Keller now has 15 goals this season and three goals in his last four games.
“I think the last five games, getting some chances, a lot of [offensive] zone time,” Keller said. “You keep working, you keep shooting the puck and doing the right things away from the rink, good things start to happen.”
Raanta stopped 27 of 30 shots faced on Saturday after giving up just one goal in each of three consecutive games coming into the night.
“He’s just solid. Raants has got his mojo, for sure,” Tocchet said. “He’s got his mojo back.”
The Coyotes now have just two games in the next 10 days, and they’re both at home. That means Arizona will get a slew of non-gamedays, all at home, in a year in which the schedule hasn’t given them much help.
“We have some practice time, which is nice,” Tocchet said. “A day off tomorrow. These guys have played a lot of hockey and I think a good day off tomorrow, a good practice — we’re not dead. There’s a lot of games left to get back in this thing.”
What’s more, Arizona is back in first place in the Wild Card standings after the win. Beating the Tampa Bay Lightning one time isn’t an indication that the Coyotes have ultimately turned things around for good. But it’s a step in the right direction at a time when they most need one, and they’ll get rest and recovery in their favor this week, too.
“I think it’s good,” Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. “Even before the last two home games, we had some days off and I felt like we came out those two games with a lot of energy, and kind of felt better. So I mean I think that’s going to benefit us moving forward.”
— Garland now has 22 goals this season, three of those coming in the last two home games. He had three points on Saturday with his assist on Stepan’s goal.
— Defenseman Jakob Chychrun missed Saturday’s game and is officially listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
— With no Chychrun, the defensive pairs were as follows: Ekman-Larsson with Ilya Lyubushkin, Jordan Oesterle with Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Aaron Ness with Alex Goligoski.
— Barrett Hayton, playing in his second game back since returning from a shoulder injury, centered a line with Conor Garland and Phil Kessel, listed as the third line.
“I liked Barrett tonight,” Tocchet said. “I liked him a lot tonight. [He’s] sticky. That’s why we drafted him. There’s a lot of potential in that kid, and he’s just a great kid to work with.”