GLENDALE, Ariz. — Maybe the Arizona Coyotes should wear throwback jerseys every game.
The team donned the black kachina jerseys from the late ’90s on Thursday and seemed to channel the play of old — at least until they blew a two-goal lead late in the third — beating the Canucks by a final score of 3-2 in a shootout and ending a pointless streak stretching back to Feb. 9.
Before the action started on the ice, the Coyotes were busy transporting Gila River Arena back to the 1990s. The jerseys weren’t the only blast from the past. A lot of the in-game entertainment was ’90s-style and some former players — such as Jeremy Roenick and Nikolai Khabibulin — were in attendance for the ceremonial puck drop.
It may have been a night for fans to remember former players, but it was a new player that hit Vancouver where it hurts in the first. With exactly one minute remaining, 22-year-old Tobias Rieder put a strange bounce off the boards past Vancouver goalie Eddie Lack to give Arizona a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
The Coyotes picked up the second where the first left off. They never outplayed the Canucks, but they outworked Vancouver and interrupted their passing rhythm. Both teams traded chances, but nothing beat Lack or Mike Smith. The period was capped by a fight between the Coyotes’ Connor Murphy and Canucks’ Luca Sbisa, who hit Rieder a little high, but more on that later.
When B.J. Crombeen scored early in the third, it seemed all but locked up for Arizona. After all, the Coyotes had lead the entire game and now had an insurance goal.
That was until Chris Higgins scored with 7:39 left, cutting Arizona’s lead to 2-1. And then former Coyote Radim Vrabta added another one with 54 seconds left.
But the Coyotes dominated overtime, missing two breakaways and outshooting the Canucks 7-2. Sam Gagner scored the only goal of the shootout, locking up the win for Arizona.
Mike Smith had his own throwback celebration. With the new all-black pads (which look scary cool), he looked like the goalie that once lead the team on a surprise run to the Western Conference Final in 2011.
“Smitty was huge,” captain Shane Doan said. “The last save in the shootout was unbelievable but he made a bunch during the game.”
He stopped 32-of-34 shots and looked composed, save for a spot in the second. He went to play the puck behind the net and it didn’t go well, but the Canucks didn’t score. No harm, no foul.
The Coyotes resembled an actual hockey team on Thursday. When they took on the Ducks Tuesday, it was obvious that four new faces were trying to learn a brand new system alongside brand new teammates without a practice. Things were, in a word, ugly.
Though some of that same sloppiness was evident against Vancouver, it was clear the team had a Dave Tippett practice under their belts. The Coyotes moved more cohesively and guys didn’t look nearly as uncomfortable as they did Tuesday, though some work is still needed.
This game could have gone either way. Though the Coyotes won, the Canucks were right at the doorstep from the word go. With a roster lacking in star talent, Arizona needs to finish their chances. There was more than once the puck was sitting near Eddie Lack’s net and the Coyotes just couldn’t get enough on it to ice the game.
Thankfully, the puck redirected off B.J. Crombeen’s ankle was enough to beat Lack and give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead.
So about that scrap in the second: Murphy decided to fight Sbisa after Sbisa hit Rieder a little high along the boards. Now, sticking up for a teammate is a great idea, but let’s just call it “good try, good effort” from Murphy. Sbisa is just a wee bit bigger than he is.
STAT OF THE GAME
With the win, the Coyotes halted a 10-game losing streak overall and a nine-game losing streak at home.
HE SAID IT
“It was a great atmosphere in here. I think everyone had a lot of fun with the night and it’s obviously great to top it off with a win.” – Sam Gagner on winning with the throwback jerseys.
– Goalscorer Tobias Rieder scored both Tuesday night against the Ducks and Thursday against the Canucks. It’s the first time he’s scored a goal in back-to-back games in his young career. Arizona is 8-1-4 when he scores this season.
– Thursday marked Canuck Radim Vrbata’s return to the Valley. He played 428 games for Arizona over two stints, scoring 137 goals and tallying 151 assists. He left the team over the summer as an unrestricted free agent.
– Coyotes defenseman Klas Dahlbeck tallied his first career assist and point since being acquired by Arizona with an assist on Crombeen’s goal.
The Coyotes will be back in their normal uniforms Saturday when another Canadian team, the Montreal Canadiens, come to town. Faceoff is set for 5 p.m. at Gila River Arena and the call will be heard on ESPN Phoenix 620 AM..