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Dave Tippett split up his two world-class centers, creating greater matchup problems for the Coyotes, but for the first 25 minutes of the game at Gila River Arena on Thursday, Arizona went toe to toe with the unbeaten Oilers.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were quiet, the Coyotes had the upper hand in shots and scoring chances, and Warren Foegele’s awkward goal was the only blemish on Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka.
A Zach Hyman shorthanded goal changed the complexion of the game at the 6:31 mark of the second period, however. McDavid got going, the Oilers scored a pair of power-play goals and Edmonton pulled away for a 5-1 win that dropped the Coyotes to 0-3-1; one of three teams in the NHL without a win.
“We had a really good first period,” coach André Tourigny said. “The shorthanded goal was a big swing. Our power play was confident and we had played well on our power play so far this year, and instead of getting back in the game you give them a bigger lead.”
Here are five takeaways from the Oiler’s visit.
When Dysin Mayo reported for practice on Thursday, he was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere.
“I kind of figured that I was in the lineup but nobody really said anything to me,” said Mayo, who was recalled from Tucson on Monday when the Coyotes reassigned Vladislav Provolnev to the Roadrunners. “Then Shane Doan came up to me afterward and asked if I had anybody coming in so I figured I was playing.
“I tried to get my parents down here (from Canada) but due to Covid protocols crossing the border, they weren’t able to, but my wife and son were here so I was happy about that.”
Mayo wasn’t happy with himself when he didn’t tie up Foegele’s stick on a first-period goal that staked the Oilers to a 1-0 lead, but he refocused himself at the first intermission by thinking about his long journey to his first NHL game.
Since the Coyotes drafted him in the fifth round in 2014, Mayo has played 258 AHL games and 25 ECHL games without a sniff at an NHL game. An offensive defenseman with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, Mayo had to completely remake his game in Tucson with the aid of assistant coach John Slaney, becoming a shutdown and penalty-killing defenseman who has just 20 points over his past three AHL seasons.
“It took a long time to get here,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good D prospects in this organization coming up and I’m kind of getting a little older now, out of the prospect zone, but I was confident enough in my game that if I got the opportunity I could show that I could play here.”
Mayo became the first Coyotes defenseman to score in his NHL debut since Tony DeAngelo did it on Nov. 8, 2016 (the eighth defensemen in franchise history overall), when he beat Mikko Koskinen with a hard wrist shot to the upper corner of the net off a cross-ice pass from Ryan Dzingel.
“I wasn’t expecting that coming into tonight,” he said. “My goal was just to play a good shutdown game and show that I could compete and play here.”
When Kyle Capobianco returns from a lower-body injury and Provolnev gets enough AHL seasoning, Mayo may find himself back in Tucson, but Tourigny said he earned this opportunity.
“During training camp and every time he was on the ice, he worked hard and he’s a really structured kid,” Tourigny said. “He has a lot of drive. He plays with a lot of passion. He’s easy to coach. He’s easy to like. He does everything you want.”
When the Coyotes signed Dmitrij Jaškin to a one-year, $3.2 million contract to lure him away from the KHL, they touted his physical play, his net-front presence and his ability to score goals in an NHL manner.
“It’s a transition from the KHL game into the NHL game and does it translate?'” GM Bill Armstrong said at the time. “That’s the one thing where we went back and forth and looked at it, and we felt it did. The way he scored his goals are the same way that you can score in the NHL. He’s pretty dominant around the front of the net. Down low, he’s just got a big body that can move and he can make small plays and use his teammates. He plays a complete game now. He’s made huge strides since he left the NHL.”
In the preseason and the season opener in Columbus, Jaškin didn’t display any of those abilities so Tourigny benched him for a pair of games before re-inserting him into the lineup on Thursday.
“He had surgery for an injury during the summer,” Tourigny said. “It kind of slowed down his process and his prep and his training for the summer. I think it’s a matter of him getting the rhythm and playing a little bit faster in his game. It sounds weird but I think Jašk will be a really important piece for us moving forward. I think when he gets his game speed, I like his puck skill around the net. He’s big, strong on the puck and he has a brain as well. If you look structure-wise on both sides of the puck, he can play well.”
Jaškin had some jump on Thursday. He had six hits, a team-high four shots on goal and he nearly had his first NHL goal since Feb. 1, 2019, but Koskinen robbed him with a left pad save.
“I felt great,” said Jaškin, admitting that it has been a transition to the NHL pace of play after two and a half years away. “You need to get used to the speed and everything that’s around it.
“The systems and everything, that’s the other thing that takes some time.”
The Coyotes are having a hard time finding goals and that was the main reason that Armstrong wanted Jaškin back. Tourigny is confident that with a little time, Jaškin will find that part of his game and become a fixture in the lineup.
“He’s a proud athlete,” Tourigny said. ” I don’t remember in my life talking to anybody and telling him he was not playing and he told me, ‘Oh, thank you, coach.’ It’s never been like that. Jašk obviously wants to play and rightfully so. He’s a talented player and he can be a big part of our team.”
Another chance for Perlini
Brendan Perlini could not have imagined the path that his pro hockey career would take after the Coyotes chose him 12th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. Just two-plus seasons into his Arizona tenure, the Coyotes traded him to the Blackhawks during the 2018-19 season.
He played just 47 games with Hawks, and he played just 39 with the Red Wings before he found himself out of the league. With the help of former Coyote Mario Kempe, he landed a contract for the 2020-21 season with Ambrì-Piotta in the Swiss League (NLA), but the goal was always to return.
“I just have a belief in myself,” Perlini said. “I know I’m an NHL caliber player.”
Like an increasing number of NHL players, Perlini chose to train in Arizona last July and August, despite the Valley’s notoriously high temperatures. That’s when he ran into another former Coyote, coach Dave Tippett, who is now with the Oilers, but still owns a house in Arizona.
“I felt pretty comfortable with what he was saying and obviously the team and the opportunity in general,” Perlini said. “I had such a great relationship with him the first time. That’s why I think things have worked out well. He’s very straightforward and I really respect that. He lets you know good, bad, whatever and where you’re at and what you can do to help or not help.”
Tippett and Oilers GM Ken Holland have been on an annual search for more forward depth to complement stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but his familiarity with Perlini also helped.
“I liked him when we drafted him,” Tippett said. “He just couldn’t find his footing, but I met with him when he was in Arizona this summer when he was training and the conversation with him was very good. He seemed like a really motivated guy.
“I talked to Ken and (Oilers AGM) Keith Gretzky about signing him and he came in and had an unbelievable camp. He’s got lots of talent, but right now the maturity factor looks like it’s really kicking in for him. He’s a big guy, skates well, has great skill so we’ll see where it goes but it has been really positive so far. I’m seeing maturity and when you get a very motivated player because of what he’s been through, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Perlini is one of the more fascinating and thoughtful characters you’ll come across in the NHL. It even shows in the jersey No. 42 that he is wearing.
“It’s for Jackie Robinson,” he said. “I watched his movie right around the time I signed and have been a huge fan since.”
Perlini has been skating on a line with former Coyote Kyle Turris. He is only averaging 7:45 of ice time so far, but he has embraced his role.
“Kyle Turris is a former 30-40 goal scorer and Shore is a great player in his own right so it’s one of the better fourth lines I’ve ever played on,” Perlini said. “Our role right now is just to bring energy for the guys, create some space and try to put them on their heels for the next guys.”
Time has dulled some of the emotions Perlini feels when he comes back to Arizona to play, but he still stays in touch with many of his former friends, including defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin, whose BMW truck he borrowed while in town.
Like every fourth-line player, Perlini hopes he earns a greater role, but he is also at peace with the direction his career has taken.
“Everyone’s lives are different and things don’t always work out the way you want or the way you plan; the perfect path. That’s life,” he said. “The more you can roll with the waves, so to speak, where things happen and whatever does happen, you still come to the rink with a smile on your face or whatever you’re doing, try and enjoy it and be grateful.”
Talking to Tip
Arizona will always hold a special place in Dave Tippett’s heart. Despite his unexpected departure on the eve of the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago, Tippett made three consecutive playoff appearances with the Coyotes from 2010-12, he made a host of friends, and he still owns a five-bedroom “family house” in DC Ranch and is building another one near Flagstaff.
“Great memories, and the memories are about the people, from coaches to players to people in the organization,” Tippett said. “I think about how close a group we were through some tough times. Everybody was pulling in the same direction. We have said it 100 times but it galvanized our group and we had some real good years so I have fond memories.”
Tippett isn’t scouting parade routes just yet, but he’s creating similar memories in Edmonton alongside longtime associate coach Jim Playfair, another former Coyote. The Oilers have qualified for the postseason in each of his two previous seasons behind the bench, and he has them off to a 4-0 start, including a 5-1 win against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Thursday. He still wonders about his team’s depth, goalie Mike Smith, 39, is already on IR (the Oilers tried to acquire Darcy Kuemper from the Coyotes) and he sees young teams in the Pacific Division that may be ready to challenge the Oilers, but he believes the organization is on the right path.
“There’s always things you want to do better as a team but we’re finding ways to win which is always good,” he said. “Our depth is better than it has been. When you add players like Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan, they’re good NHL players. You couple that with the growth of Jesse Puljujärvi and Kyler Yamomoto and Evan Bouchard, our depth is definitely better.”
Edmonton has even added former Coyotes Perlini and Kyle Turris to the mix in an effort to surround stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with enough talent to push past the second round of the playoffs; something the Oilers have not accomplished since 2006. Turris is an interesting addition, given his inauspicious and unpopular beginnings in Arizona as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft.
“I had Kyle at a World Championship maybe five or six years ago and he was really good,” Tippett said. “He got bought out by Nashville and we brought him in and he had a bit of a tough year last year, but he has come back and has played really well. We switched him to right wing and it’s been a good fit.
“We talked a little bit about the past when I coached him at the World Championship and that’s it. There’s just so much time that has passed. It was a long time ago for everybody. It’s really not relevant any more.”
At age 60, Tippett knows he probably won’t get too many more kicks at the can, but with 2020 first-round pick Dylan Holloway likely to join the team this winter after wrist surgery, and with Holland still fixated on adding more pieces, Tippett has hope with McDavid and Draisaitl leading the way.
“From a coach’s perspective, it’s great to have people like that in your arsenal to use,” said Tippett, who never had such elite centers in Arizona. “Not only can you use them in a lot of situations; they excel in a lot of situations. I’m very fortunate that they are both highly motivated, good people who play hard and want to win. It’s a pleasure to coach them. Sometimes you get caught watching them, but it’s almost always for a good reason.”
I will be the first to admit that it is way too early to look at the bottom of the standings and wonder where the Coyotes might end up in the 2022 NHL Draft order. But whether it’s a new arena, or the roster, everything is about the future with this franchise.
Most analysts agreed that the six teams most likely in the mix for the worst record in the NHL are the Coyotes, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Detroit and Ottawa. Those other five teams are off to better starts than Arizona (one point). Ottawa and Anaheim each have a pair of wins for four points, Detroit has five points, and Columbus and Buffalo have six.
The bottom of the standings are a bit of a surprise for Montreal and Chicago, but both teams will struggle to make the playoffs this season. Here’s a look at the bottom 13 right now. Much will change over the next several weeks, with Colorado, Vegas, Boston, the Islanders and Winnipeg all likely to find their groove.
Speaking of the Islanders, they are next up on the Coyotes schedule ahead of a grueling five-game East Coast swing through Florida, Tampa, Washington, Carolina and Philadelphia. If the Coyotes don’t get their first win of the season against New York on Saturday, they are going to be hard pressed on that trip. The Panthers, Lightning, Capitals, Hurricanes and Flyers have a combined two regulations losses so far, and four including overtimes/shootouts.
If you’re wondering, here’s a look at the NHL teams that have recorded the fewest wins in a season of at least 70 games. For an 82-game season, the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers hold the record at 14.