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Some things never change. The Wild still owns the Coyotes.
Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the stripped-to-the-studs roster that the Coyotes are rolling out this season, but since the start of the 2019-20 season, Minnesota is 11-1 against Arizona and has outscored it 52-24, including a 5-2 win at Gila River Arena on Wednesday.
After their first win of the season against Seattle on Saturday, you wondered if the Coyotes might show a little more confidence against the Wild. They did in a decent first period, but that was after they spotted the Wild a two-goal lead.
“Our start wasn’t indicative of the way we need to play,” forward Andrew Ladd said. “In the first period, we had a bunch of turnovers that really fed into their transition game, allowing them to get chances and it puts our whole group on our heels.”
Even when the Coyotes pulled within a goal at the intermission thanks to Ladd’s breakaway goal, quick strikes by Kevin Fiala and Dmitry Kulikov 36 seconds apart, and early in the second period, served as a reminder that the quality of the opponent had taken a major step up from Saturday.
With the win, Minnesota moved into first place in the Central Division with its fourth straight victory, giving the Coyotes the distinction of having played all four of the NHL’s first-place teams. The Wild looked fast, skilled and aggressive. In a suddenly wide-open Central, Minnesota may have the goods for a deep playoff run.
“That’s the plan,” former Coyote Alex Goligoski said. “We are really good; just really deep and play hard.”
The Coyotes could not break the Wild’s offensive-zone pressure and coach André Tourigny felt that was the key to the game.
“They’re a really good team and we knew they were really good at putting traffic in front of the net,” he said. “I think the big key for us is the way we get the puck out of our zone. I think we need to be more efficient. When we do that, we sustain good pressure. We’re a hard working team, but when you give a second and third chance to your opponent to attack you from your breakout, it makes it tough.”
Here are five takeaways from the game.
One of the few bright spots for the Coyotes has been the offensive resurgence of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Left for dead by the Flyers, who traded him to Arizona along with two picks for nothing but cap relief, Gostisbehere has 11 points (two goals) which is tied for seventh among NHL defensemen, two points behind reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox.
He posted his 50th career multi-point game on Wednesday, and his second straight. He has five points (1-4-5) in his past two games.
When asked what has fueled his resurgence, Gostisbehere downplayed the numbers in the wake of a loss.
“I’m just trying to get pucks to the net,” he said. “I think sometimes a good defense is a good offense. There’s a lot of defense plays that are leading to offense and we’re scoring goals.
“I think I’m just getting lucky sometimes, getting D-zone apples (assists) and stuff like that.”
When the Coyotes acquired Gostisbehere, GM Bill Armstrong was convinced that he had some game left despite falling out of favor in Philadelphia. Whether he remains with the team through the trade deadline or is moved, Gostisbehere is showing that he does indeed have some value left.
Howling head reds
The Coyotes wore their howling head red jerseys against the Wild. In a perfect world, they would have worn their Kachina jerseys after all the hype this summer about returning to that iconic look as their primary logo, but per NHL requirements, the Coyotes have to wear the red jerseys eight times this season to keep the jersey/logo active.
Arizona had to select those eight games before the national TV schedule was announced and could not alter plans once it was announced.
“But Craig,” you ask, “do you know all of the games in which they plan to wear those red jerseys?” In fact, I do! Thanks goes to Coyotes vice president of media relations Greg Dillard for the following list.
Strength of schedule
The Coyotes are going to struggle this season against most competition, but the first 13 games of their schedule have proven especially challenging. Heading into their game against the Wild, the Coyotes had faced seven teams in the top 10 in points in the NHL standings, all five of the top-five teams in points percentage, and as I mentioned above, they have now faced all four first-place teams in the league.
Only one of their opponents (Seattle) had a points percentage below .500.
St. Louis: 8-2-1
New York Islanders: 5-3-2
Leadership and good-in-the-room takes are well-worn NHL clichés, but it’s not wise to dismiss those important attributes out of hand when it comes to the culture of a hockey team.
Take Alex Goligoski, for example. He escaped the Coyotes’ rebuild and signed a lucrative one-year deal ($5 million) with his home-state Minnesota Wild. He admits he is having a lot of fun. Even so, he is still checking in on his former mates, especially those going through tough times.
He had dinner with Jason Demers at Clever Koi on Tuesday. Demers is still an unsigned free agent despite a burning desire to keep playing.
“Tough spot for him,” Goligoski said. “Hopefully, he can play some hockey somewhere this year and maybe latch on somewhere next season.”
Goligoski also checked in with his former defensive partner, Jakob Chychrun, who has one assist in 13 games and owns a league-worst minus-20 rating.
“I feel so bad for him,” Goligoski said. “I reached out to him the other day just to check in and offer some encouragement. Poor guy doesn’t deserve to go through this. Can’t imagine where his head is at. Just not a good situation, has nothing to do with him. Hopefully they can grab a hold of it a little bit and steady the ship.”
Wednesday’s game was Goligoski’s first game at Gila River Arena since signing with the Wild in the offseason, but he said it was not strange being back.
“Honestly, not really,” he said. “I think the turnover helped with that. I do miss this weather.”
If you missed the terrific story that The Athletic’s Mike Russo wrote on him, here it is again.
Here’s the video tribute the Coyotes put on the scoreboard on Wednesday.
Tocchet interviews Chychrun
Speaking of Chychrun, his former coach, Rick Tocchet, who now works for TNT (you might have seen my story on that topic on Wednesday) asked him about his struggles while Chychrun was taking warm-ups.
I’m already a fan of TNT’s coverage because it isn’t following conventional models. I mean, they hired Paul Bissonnette so that should have tipped you off from the start.
TNT’s coverage is already leaps and bounds better than NBC’s coverage was, and I think it has been better than ESPN’s coverage as well.
I have never seen a player interviewed while warming up before. I hope that TNT keeps trying these outside-the-box methods. NHL coverage needs more innovation.
Here’s the video: