By Casey Gagnon, Phoenix Sports Hub
E-Mail: CaseyPSH at yahoo dot com
The Phoenix Coyotes needed players to step up Tuesday night in Denver to fill voids in the lineup. Forward Antoine Vermette and goaltender Thomas Greiss received the message loud and clear. Both played as solid a game one could ask for, and the Coyotes earned a crucial 3-1 road victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
Captain Shane Doan did not make the trip and missed his second consecutive game due to illness. Goaltender Mike Smith was slated to start in net, but he experienced flu-like symptoms himself all day and sat the game out.
Vermette scored two goals in his 700th career NHL game, both in the second period. The first came on a power play when he lit the lamp with a quick wrist shot off a spectacular pass from defenseman Keith Yandle, who found Vermette positioned just to the left of the next . Vermette scored his second goal late in the period on another wrist shot, this time from the right side of the net, not affording Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov even a split second to react after Varlamov blocked a wide open blast from Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.rnrnThe Coyotes knew first-hand they were up against a formidable goaltender in Varlamov, who made 41 saves in the season’s first meeting between the two teams in Phoenix last month, a game the Avalanche won in overtime. Nonetheless, the Coyotes never looked back after after Vermette pounded in the rebound to open up the two goal advantage.
Meanwhile, Greiss made 29 saves in his unexpected start and improved his career record against the Avalanche to a perfect 4-0. He has now won four out of his five starts this season, with the lone loss last week in Calgary. Colorado head coach Patrick Roy, who knows a thing or two about solid goaltending himself, acknowledged after the game that Greiss “made some great saves” when the Avalanche had key scoring chances.
Defensively, the Coyotes continued to tighten things up and went a perfect two for two on the penalty kill. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek returned to the ice after missing the last nine games due to injury. The Coyotes reactivated Michalek from injured reserve just hours before puck drop, and he responded with solid play during 17:30 of time on ice, improving to +10 on the season. Ekman-Larsson, who has played all 30 games thus far, also improved to +10 overall. Fellow blueliner Connor Murphy turned in a great effort as well, going +2 for the game. Murphy is now at +1 in seven season appearances for the Coyotes after commencing the season with the team’s AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.
The Coyotes impressively displayed their improved puck control in the game’s closing minutes, staying in their offensive zone as the third period clock ticked down. This allowed them to burn off time and preserve the two goal advantage.
After the game, Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett lauded his team’s overall effort, especially after the scoreless opening period. He noted that after Vermette’s first goal put the Coyotes on the board, the team gained momentum and that “momentum is a big part of the game and if you grab momentum and keep it, that’s big.”
The Coyotes concluded their four game road swing by going 2-1-1 and picking up five out of a possible eight points in the Pacific Division standings. They return to home ice on Thursday night against the New York Islanders, then play one more home game versus the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday before embarking on another four game road trip through Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Buffalo. They then return to Phoenix for a few days off to celebrate Christmas before getting back to the grind.
Meanwhile, Shane Doan is still day to day as he continues to recover from illness, but suffice it to say the captain is probably feeling at least a tad better knowing that his teammates got the job done in his absence, and got it done quite well on the road against a tough opponent.
•Antoine Vermette has now scored nine goals this season (his 11th in the NHL) and 166 goals total in a career split between the Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Ottawa Senators. He scored his first NHL goal in December 2003 with the Senators and has now scored 368 career points overall (202 assists to complement the 166 goals), including eight points in the last nine games
•Keith Yandle’s assist on the first Vermette goal was his 17th this season (most on the Coyotes and tied for 27th overall in the NHL), while Oliver Ekman-Larsson earned his 16th assist on Vermette’s second goal.
•Forward Mike Ribeiro was also credited with an assist on Vermette’s first goal. He has scored seven points in the last eight games and 23 points on the season (tied with Doan for second on the team)
•Fourth line forward Jordan Szwarz scored his second goal of the seasonrnrn
•The Coyotes are now 11-3-3 versus the Avalanche under Coach Tippett. The two teams will play once more this season on February 28 in Denver.