If there is one thing the Arizona Coyotes have done well under coach Dave Tippett, it's win (143-25-25 coming into the game) when scoring first. Fortunately, the Florida Panthers were able to shake off that stat, and a very questionable third period call on Scottie Upshall, for a 2-1 victory, their first on home ice this season.
After the Cats killed off the iffy charging minor, a determined Upshall came out of the box to take a pass from Tomas Kopecky and broke in on Mike Smith. The veteran forward deposited a slick backhander past the Coyote keeper for the eventual game-winner at the 10:56 mark. Derek MacKenzie started off the play by blocking a shot from the point before finding Kopecky.
Arizona opened the scoring with a power-play goal late in the first period. Martin Hanzal deflected a Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot past Roberto Luongo just 21 seconds after Kopecky was sent off for slashing. Keith Yandle, who drew the penalty, collected the secondary assist on Hanzal's second of the season.
The Panthers responded with a power-play goal off their own 5:37 into the middle frame. Brandon Pirri fired home a pretty pass from Jussi Jokinen to extend his goal-scoring streak to three games. Erik Gudbranson, who would later square off with Coyote Kyle Chipchura, picked up the second assist.
Luongo made 32 saves, including some fine stops late in the game with the Cats nursing the one-goal lead, to raise his record to 3-2-2. Brother Louie earned First Star honors for his performance.
The struggling Smith turned aside 24 shots in one of his best performances of the young season. He absolutely robbed Jokinen on a rebound in the second and also stoned Tomas Fleischmann on a breakaway in the third to keep the Desert Dogs in the game.
The Panthers have come a long way since that debacle in the home-opener against New Jersey. I expected Luongo to be good this season, instead he's been downright stellar, as has the club's 5-on-5 defense, which might be one of the biggest surprises so far this season. Last night the offense produced just enough to get two points, but at some point, more of the forwards have got to start finding the back of the net. Props to the team for hanging tough and picking up crucial points in the standings. It's not easy to win when scoring so little (and the opposition always seems to end up with more power plays), but right now they are finding a way. You have to think at some point the offense will break through. Maybe it's Saturday night when the Philadelphia Flyers come to town.
Odds & Ends
- The Killer B's line was awfully quiet last night. Aleksander Barkov finished with three shots on goal, but Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim failed to register a single shot. Boyes did have three hits in the game. Barkov left the game in the third period with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.
- With Barkov possibly out of the lineup, one change I'd like to see is Jimmy Hayes inserted on the Nick Bjugstad - Jonathan Huberdeau line. While those guys aren't scoring right now, they are putting a lot of pucks towards the goal. A player like Hayes could be the answer to cleaning up the mess those two are leaving in front of the net.
- The Coyotes' dynamic defensive duo of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle each had 6 shots on goal and an assist. Those two are pretty good players, eh?
- Scottie Upshall's goal tagged Mike Smith with his first career loss against the Panthers. Sorry old chum...
- In addition to scoring his third goal in just four games, Brandon Pirri hit the post twice. Guy definitely has a nose for the net. Pirri made a few nice passes and defensive plays too, but needs some work in the face-off dot.
- Tomas Kopecky wasn't one of the three stars, but he had a strong defensive game, especially late in the action, and set up the winning goal. Hats off to you, sir!
- Another depressingly meager crowd (7,691) at the game, but a win and a weekend visit from the Flyers should draw five figures on Saturday.
- For the other side of last night's affair, sail a ship across the desert and find the cool oasis of Five For Howling.