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Neutral zone: Coyotes Czech mate Bruins to end NHL's longest active winning streak

Craig Morgan Avatar
December 10, 2022

Before a Friday meeting at Mullett Arena, the last time the Coyotes had beaten the Boston Bruins was Oct. 9, 2010 in Prague, Czechia, when they won 5-2 behind two goals from Czech native Radim Vrbata.

It made sense then that it was another Czech who ended the Bruins’ 19-game winning streak against the Coyotes. Karel Vejmelka made 43 saves in perhaps his best performance of the season, and Lawson Crouse scored his second goal of the game with 13.5 seconds remaining as the Coyotes overcame a 46-16 shot disadvantage to beat the NHL’s top team, 4-3.

The win was just Arizona’s second in its past 12 games and it came on the heels of an 8-2 loss in Edmonton that capped off the Coyotes’ NHL record-tying 14-game road trip in dismal fashion.

“After the game in Edmonton we talked about our competitiveness,” Coyotes coach André Tourigny said. “We arrived against Edmonton and we did not grab the challenge with the same authority that we did tonight. Tonight we had that swagger. We went against a much better team; a team who is by any metrics, top one or two in the league. We competed and we went at them. That was a really good night for our team.”

The first game back from a long road trip is always a tough one, but Vejmelka did not play in Edmonton so he was fresh from the start. He needed to be. The Bruins outshot the Coyotes 15-6 in the first period and 23-6 in the second. According to Natural Stat Trick, Boston had 22 high-danger chances in the game, yet the Bruins only led for 2:52 of the entire game.

“I’m a little bit tired but it’s a great feeling,” said Vejmelka, who faced the most shots he has seen since the season opener in Pittsburgh. “It helped me just to be focused for every shot. That doesn’t mean I want it, but it’s always better for sure for every goalie.”

Boston’s streak against the Coyotes was the longest active winning streak by one team against another, and it was the second longest in NHL history, topped only by the Montréal Canadiens 23-game winning streak against the Washington Capitals from 1974-78 (the Capitals were an expansion team in 1974).

Crouse’s conundrum

Lawson Crouse is considering shaving what he affectionately refers to as his “ginger beard.” 

“It’s starting to get annoying,” he said after the Bruins game.

The problem? Crouse doesn’t want to upset the hockey gods or disturb the good karma that has been flowing his way. With two more goals on Friday, Crouse leads the team with 12 and is on pace for 39, which would shatter his personal best of 20 set last season before he signed his five-year, $21.5 million deal.

“I’m just believing in myself,” he said. “I try not to overthink things and control the things that I can control.”

Crouse is clearly benefiting from playing alongside Nick Bjugstad and Matias Maccelli, but he is converting his chances, scoring on 26.7 percent of his shots. The Coyotes had their share of critics when they signed Crouse to that deal this summer. Nobody is criticizing it any more.

Nick Ritchie was back in the Coyotes lineup Friday after a three-game absence as a healthy scratch. (Getty Images)

Ritchie’s challenge

Nick Ritchie was the first player off the ice after the morning skate on Friday at the Ice Den Scottsdale. He left the door open and coach André Tourigny had to close it for him while the rest of Ritchie’s teammates stayed on the ice.

Tourigny didn’t go into too much detail, but the things he needs to see from Ritchie’s game are similarly simple.

“I need to see more urgency. I need to see more pop. I need to see more drive. I need to see everything more,” Tourigny said. “He doesn’t have to change his game, but what we like about Nick, and what he did for us last year, and what he did at the start of season [was] he was hard on the forecheck. He was physical on the forecheck. He was hard around the net.

“He’s a huge man. He is tough to counter around the net, but when he’s casual, he loses all the flavor of his play and he needs to have that urgency.”

Ritchie was back in the lineup against the Bruins after missing the previous three as a healthy scratch. He logged just 12:28 of ice time, but he had four hits and saw significant time on the power play.

“I liked him,” Tourigny said. “That’s the Rich we like. That’s the Rich with drive, with urgency, with physicality. He was skating with authority. I really liked the way he played.”

Ritchie will be a free agent after this season. After starting the season hot with six goals and eight points in his first 11 games, he has two assists in his past 11 games. It’s no secret that Ritchie could be one of those players that the Coyotes look to move at the trade deadline, but he hasn’t helped his value much of late.

Like the rest of the Coyotes, some of Ritchie’s struggles may be traced to the fact that the team completed an NHL record-tying 14-game road trip. The Coyotes will need him to regain his early-season form. 

The annex is ready

The annex that the Coyotes built to house their own team spaces and the visiting team spaces at Mullett Arena was ready for use for the first time on Friday. The Bruins held their morning skate at the arena and their buses were backed up to the annex.

The first four teams that faced the Coyotes in Tempe — Winnipeg, the New York Rangers, Florida and Dallas — had to use a temporary space set up on the community rink.

Some finishing touches will be added to the lounge and other areas in the weeks ahead (paint, etc.), but the Coyotes equipment staff and other members of the staff worked long hours to get it ready for use on Friday.

Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun has looked like his old self since returning to the lineup nine games ago. (Getty Images)

Chychrun’s worth

You’ve probably heard a lot of GMs complaining about the price that Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong is asking for defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Usually, you hear that complaint through the voices and words of national media members or local broadcast media in the affected cities.

No matter the chatter, Armstrong won’t be budging off an asking price that likely includes two first-round picks and either a second-round pick or a good prospect. The way Chychrun has played since returning to the lineup from offseason wrist surgery, Armstrong is likely to get his price.

Here’s a comparison of his first nine games this season vs. last season, when Chychrun struggled through likely his worst season as a pro.

Year G A Pts. SOG +/- ATOI
2022-23 3 5 8 35 +6 22:18
2021-22 0 0 0 23 -15 25:00

Chychrun’s expected goals for (6.3) after just eight games was a rate that would lead the team if he had played all 24 games — and that’s as a defenseman. His possession stats were the best on the team because he was driving offense and defending far better than he did last season.

We have discussed the ways in which the Coyotes are showcasing Chychrun to help state their case for a trade, but there’s only so much you can do if a player isn’t cooperating.

“Chych’s played well,” Armstrong said. “I’ve got to give him credit. He’s probably been our best player.”

As far as the asking price, consider what Florida gave up at last year’s trade deadline to get Claude Giroux for one playoff run before he signed a three-year, $19.5 million free-agent deal in Ottawa. Philadelphia received forward Owen Tippett, a first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft or 2025 NHL Draft, and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Florida also received forward prospects Connor Bunnaman and German Rubtsov, and a fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft.

The Panthers also got defenseman Ben Chiarot from the Montreal Canadiens at last season’s deadline in exchange for prospect Ty Smilanic, Florida’s first-round selection in 2023, and a fourth-round selection in the 2022 NHL Draft. Chiarot signed a four-year, $19 million free-agent deal with Detroit this summer.

The difference with Chychrun is that he is signed for two more seasons after this one at a reasonable cap hit of $4.6 million, although his total salary escalates to $7 million in the final year of the deal.

Chychrun is also 24, with plenty of his career ahead of him. Giroux is 34; Chiarot is 31.

With nine games now under his belt, we are getting close to a large enough sample for teams to have a feel for Chychrun’s game.

The other concern that GMs may have about Chychrun is his long list of injuries, which includes both knees, a shoulder, an ankle, and a wrist. At some point, if he stays healthy, GMs are going to start to feel the pressure to make a move.

There are at least five serious teams in the mix for Chychrun and maybe 10 that have shown interest. Among the teams still believed to be in the mix are Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Boston and Florida, with rumors also involving the New York Rangers and Islanders, and Carolina.

The closer we get to the trade deadline, the more frenzied the bidding war will become, but remember, Armstrong does not have to trade Chychrun. He is under contract for two more seasons. If the deal doesn’t materialize, he can bide his time, and that has been his track record for his entire 27-month tenure as GM.

Coyotes defenseman Patrik Nemeth is among the players who have benefited from coach André Tourigny’s unconventional 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineups. (Getty Images)


André Tourigny has used 11 forwards and seven defensemen 10 times this season, including Friday’s game. It’s an unconventional alignment. Normally, coaches go with 12 forwards and six defensemen to roll four complete lines and three defense pairs.

Why does he do it? Because he loves the alignment.

“I like everything about it,” he said. “When you play at 11-7, that gives you the opportunity to reward guys who deserve it, and to have versatility in the sense that if you want more rugged lines, you can put a rugged player there. If you want more skill, you can put a skilled player there. That allows those 10th and 11th forwards to play with one of those top-end guys.

“On the back end, I like the fact that it spreads out the ice time. I’m a big believer that to defend, you need a lot of energy. When our D play too many minutes they don’t defend the same way and now it compounds in lack of possession and not [having] the same pop offensively. I think when your D are 20 minutes, around that and less, they have energy and they are going at their opponent and they press. Now you become more of an in-your-face type of team.”

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