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The last time the Coyotes and Blue Jackets hooked up, the Jackets scored eight times on a humiliating opening night for the Coyotes in Columbus.
A 5-4 shootout loss isn’t exactly cause for celebration, but the NHL’s extra time is always a bit of a crapshoot, and the Coyotes will take whatever feel-good moments they can get these days.
“We did a lot of good things in that game,” coach André Tourigny said of Thursday’s loss at Gila River Arena. “There were a few odd-man rushes I would like to clean, but our play with the puck was much better, our breakouts were much better, we generated good offense — we generated a lot of offense, actually.
“The overtime, not so good at defending but it’s 3-on-3 hockey. It’s not really a hockey game and the same thing in the shootout.”
Scott Wedgewood tied a career high with 42 saves. Although he allowed a pair of goals that he probably should have stopped, he also made a handful of Grade-A stops including a sprawling glove save on Justin Danforth in the first period. Wedgewood has earned five of the Coyotes’ six points this season.
“That save in the first was ridiculous,” defenseman Jakob Chychrun said. “That should be a goal for them. You need to rely on your goalie a lot of times in this league and to have a guy who’s playing with confidence is always key.”
Ryan Dzingel, Phil Kessel, Lawson Crouse and Chychrun scored for the Coyotes, who rallied from one-goal deficits twice to earn the point. Clayton Keller recorded his 200th career point with an assist on Chychrun’s game-tying goal with 5:42 remaining in regulation.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday.
Signs of life
Chychrun revealed after the game that he had switched skates “a few games ago” from the brand that he had used his entire life because they were giving him all sorts of issues.
“It’s nice to just kind of get that out of my head and just be able to go out and play,” he said. “When I’m skating well, that’s when I’m playing my best. I’m able to jump up in the play and close on guys and get up and down the ice.
“I could talk about it all night. It was driving me crazy. It was really bad. I was actually having some ankle and knee problems and I still am just from the lasting effects of what was going on. It’s just, (I’m) trying to put that in the rearview.”
Chychrun may be putting his poor start in the same place. In his past three games, he has two goals and an assist and has a minus-1 rating after posting just one point in his first 14 games with a league-worst minus-21 rating.
He scored the tying goal by timing his jump into the play to receive Keller’s pass, and he even scored in the shootout when Tourigny turned to him in the sixth round. Although every player works on shootouts in practice, this was only the second shootout attempt of Chychrun’s NHL career, and his first goal.
“I definitely had a better mentality tonight just trying to create and getting pucks through,” he said. “Good things happen when you do that and it was nice to get back to that a little bit.”
At first glance, Ryan Dzingel’s nickname, Zinger, would appear to be another in a long line of simplistic NHL nicknames. But Dzingel is blessed with the gift of gab and a sense of humor so this particular moniker seems well-suited to the man.
“I try not to talk too much but it’s really hard for me,” he said.
Dzingel only had one assist in his first six games this season, but he revealed on Thursday that the abdomen/rib injury that had sidelined him since Oct. 25 actually occurred in the season opener and he played through it before finally leaving the lineup.
“I wasn’t playing the way I wanted to,” he said. “I’m ready to go now.”
In his return to the lineup, Dzingel centered the fourth line between Liam O’Brien and Hudson Fasching. He said it was the first time he has played center since college.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” he said. “I’ll be good at men’s league after my career.”
Dzingel gave the Coyotes an early lead on a power play when he beat Elvis Merzlikins with a bar-down shot through a Lawson Crouse screen. It was his first goal since April 5, a span of 22 games.
He also fought Cole Sillinger, leaving him an assist short of a Gordie Howe hat trick.
“This is my fourth team now so I’m getting used to meeting new guys,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people in this locker room. I know that people say that as a cliché but that’s what stinks the most while we’re not playing well is because we have good people and good character in the locker room; people you want to be around every day.”
Ghosts of first rounds past
When a team has as much roster turnover as the Coyotes have had over the past four years, every game can feel like a trip down memory lane. Former Coyotes litter NHL rosters these days, but this season has been a little more poignant. With the Coyotes embarking on another rebuild, a number of their former first-round picks serve as a reminder that things don’t always go according to plan.
On Thursday, the Coyotes met the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time this season. That meant another visit with Max Domi, who was not in the lineup because he needed some practice time after being in the COVID-19 protocols, but he did accompany the team to Arizona.
Already this season, the Coyotes have faced five of their former first-round draft picks. Aside from Domi, they faced Kyle Turris (No. 3, 2007) and Brendan Perlini (No. 12, 2014) when they played Edmonton on Oct. 21. They faced Dylan Strome (No. 3, 2015) and Connor Murphy (No. 20, 2011) when they played Chicago on Nov. 12.
The Coyotes still have dates with four more former first-round picks this season when they face Winnipeg (Blake Wheeler, No. 5, 2004), San Jose (Nick Merkley, No. 30, 2015), Vancouver (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, No. 6, 2009), and P.O. Joseph (No. 23, 2017). Merkley and Joseph have spent time in the AHL as well this season.
In all my years of covering the NHL I have never asked how coaches decide the shootout order once teams get past the first three to four rounds.
Turns out, Tourigny has no structure at all. Once the Coyotes advanced to the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of the shootout, it was all on feel. Barrett Hayton did not score in the fifth round, Chychrun scored in the sixth and Antoine Roussel could not keep the Coyotes alive in the seventh round before Yegor Chinakhov scored to end it.
“Rouss is our practice champion so the guys on the bench were all saying, ‘Send Rouss, send Rouss’” Tourigny said. “He’s pretty good in our practice. Too bad he didn’t score.”
The Coyotes officially announced on Thursday that defenseman Conor Timmins would miss the rest of the season after undergoing successful knee surgery. In the same announcement, however, they announced that Tucson Roadrunners forward Liam Kirk would miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery.
Kirk was injured in a game at Henderson (Nevada) on Nov. 6. Here is the seemingly innocuous play via AHLTV.
Kirk (No. 94) catches his skate in a rut as he pursues the puck behind the Henderson goal. The Roadrunners initially listed it as a lower-body injury, but Kirk suffered a torn right ACL on the play. He will rehab in Arizona.
“He came over, he was in good shape, he had a really good development camp and rookie camp and he was down in the American league, finding his way, starting to score a little bit on the power play and getting his groove on,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said. “It’s just one of those things.
“Self belief is the key now. We’ve got to find a way to keep him involved and keep his mind very active about still growing with the game even though you’re not playing. You need to be involved in the team meetings, you need to do whatever you can to stay involved and keep your mind active. That’s part of getting through it.”
Armstrong also provided an update on three other injured Coyotes: Center Nick Schmaltz (upper-body, IR), forward Christian Fischer (upper body, IR) and goalie Carter Hutton (lower body, IR) are all week to week.
As previously reported, forward Dmitrij Jaškin is also out for the season after a knee-on-knee collision with Nashville’s Mark Borowiecki on the last road trip. After the game, Jaškin was outside the training room in a soft brace.