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There's something about St. Louis: 5 takeaways from the Coyotes' second win of the season

Craig Morgan Avatar
November 17, 2021

ST. LOUIS — Of the three Coyotes who made their way to the postgame interview room on Tuesday night, it was amusing that 21-year-old Barrett Hayton was the only one with any historical perspective on the Coyotes’ improbable success in St. Louis.

Hayton played every game of Arizona’s bizarre, seven-game, regular-season series against the Blues from Feb. 2 to Feb. 15 of last season — a series that included four straight games at Enterprise Center, three of which the Coyotes won.

Armed with that experience, Hayton took the baton from the ghosts of Coyotes past. He scored two goals, including a game-winning, power-play deflection of Shayne Gostisbehere’s point shot with 6:08 remaining in the third period in a 3-2 victory that gave Arizona its second win of the season. The faces and the names may have changed dramatically, but there is still something about the Blues that brings out the best in this bunch. The Coyotes are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games in St. Louis.

“It felt unreal,” Hayton said of his goals. “I love to score. Obviously, I’ve been focused on the details of my game, playing well, 200-foot game, being great in the circle, but I want to score, I want to produce, I want to help the team win and being able to get two goals like that feels real good.”

Apparently, nothing can stop the Coyotes from feeling good in this building. Arizona entered the game with a league-worst 1-13-1 record and nine regulars out of the lineup after announcing that defenseman Anton Strålman was day to day with a lower-body injury sustained in  practice on Monday. Johan Larsson (Covid protocols), Andrew Ladd  (Covid protocols), Dmitrij Jaškin (out for the season, knee), Christian Fischer (IR, upper body), Nick Schmaltz (IR, upper body), Ryan Dzingel (day to day, upper body), Carter Hutton (IR, lower body) and Conor Timmons (out for the season, knee) were the other eight.

“What I liked is the way they jumped in that game,” coach André Tourigny said. “They didn’t jump in that game dipping their toes or with a feeling of being defeated before the game started. They went with urgency, they played the right way, they competed and they went with the flow. They did not overthink and think about how many guys were out. They just stayed in the present and did what they had to do.”

Arizona scored twice on the power play (the other goal came from Kyle Capobianco), marking the first game this season in which the power play has notched two goals. And then there was goalie Scott Wedgewood, who stopped 34 shots to earn his second victory since being claimed off waivers 12 days earlier.

“It’s never easy to win in this league and I think my NHL stats prove that,” Wedgewood quipped. “It’s been a tough road and every night I feel like I give everything I have, win or loss. That’s something I have been proud of myself for.”

Here are five takeaways from the game.

Coyotes goaltender Scott Wedgewood stops Blues center Tyler Bozak in the first period Tuesday at Enterprise Center. (USA TODAY Sports)

W is for Wedgewood

Wedgewood owns both of the Coyotes wins, but in the four games in which he has appeared for Arizona, he also owns a 1.82 goals against average, a .941 save percentage and a perfect quality start percentage.

I asked Tourigny how he would explain the improbable story of a waiver-claim goalie stepping into the toughest situation in the NHL, without knowing personnel or systems, and succeeding right off the hop.

“I don’t want to explain it, I don’t want to talk about it,” Tourigny said, laughing. “I just want to ride the wave.

“He’s quick and the other thing we knew about him is he’s a confident person. He has confidence in his skill and his ability and that’s the way he carries himself on our team. He has no complex. He fights and he looks really assertive.” 

Wedgewood understands his situation perfectly. He knows it could end in a heartbeat. He has been trying to secure a foothold in the NHL for seven seasons and it hasn’t happened yet.

“It’s a second chance at the league and I know I belong here,” he said. “It’s never been a question in my mind. It’s just a matter of being consistent and executing on the opportunities and stepping into this role on this team.”

With Carter Hutton injured and Karel Vejmelka needing to take a step back to work on his game, Wedgewood has an excellent opportunity to secure a role for at least the rest of this season.

“I hope I give them a little bit of a spark,” he said. “It’s a tough road for a lot of them. When I’m in there, I’ve given everything and I think they respect that and we’re going to have a chance to win moving forward.

“I think the biggest key is just inside my own game, hitting my spots, getting to my position at the right time and I look at their options. I think I do a good job of looking off the puck and being aware of threats and potential next-play options. That’s one thing I think I have elevated over the years and then just kind of being early. A lot of the time, it’s just letting the puck hit you. Before, I wanted to be a little more perfect every game, catch every puck or make every blocker save clean. As you get older, you understand that as long as you get hit and it doesn’t go in the net, you can battle for the next one.”

Coyotes forward Hudson Fasching made his season debut on Tuesday (Getty Images)

Fasching’s bizarre year

Hudson Fasching said he treated the 2020-21 season like a developmental year. When you spend most of your time on the taxi squad (he played five games for the Coyotes and two for the Roadrunners), that’s about all you can do.

“It was really just a lot of skill building: stick handling, coming out of corners, trying to beat guys one-on-one,” he said. “It’s hard to work on strategy and structure when you’re on the ice with three other guys, but as a bigger guy, sometimes you lose sight of skills a little bit so it was good in that way.”

Whatever Fasching did, it has paid dividends. He is tied for the Tucson team lead with 10 points (four goals) in 10 games. Injuries and COVID-19 helped Fasching earn a recall to the Coyotes, but he also did it with his play.

“He is a reliable player,” Tourigny said. “Every time we read the report from (Roadrunners coach) Jay (Varady) and we talk about Fasch, he’s playing the right way and impacting the game in many ways so it’s good to see him get a reward for it.”

The Covid-impacted 2020-21 season was hard on all of the players, but especially so for the ones who languished in the limbo that was the taxi squad. 

“It was tricky, for sure,” Fasching said. “We had a really good crew here, and that made it a lot easier having a good group of guys to hang out with every day. In a team setting, it’s normally like 20 guys so if there’s a guy you don’t get along with you have other guys to hang out with. When you’ve got a group of five guys, you don’t really have a choice so I was really thankful we had a good group.”

While he was in limbo, Fasching said he got a lot of reps, working on specific details of the game.

“It’s hard to not have tangible goals in a whole season so I think that was the thing for me. I could work on shooting, I could work on handling the puck,” he said. “In a normal practice, there’s 20-some guys and there’s one puck getting whipped around. When there’s five of us out there, we always have a puck on our stick. I know they’re so basic and boring, but when you rep and work on them day in day out, it kind of builds on itself.

“I got a couple two-on-ones this season and I put the puck exactly where I wanted it to go. It feels good when that happens. It’s like, ‘Okay, I was aiming there, and it went there.’ So that’s very gratifying. And making plays out of the corner, that’s kind of always been my thing is playing in tight areas, playing on the walls and being able to beat guys out of there. So I feel like I’ve been continuing to do that.”

The thing that Fasching missed the most about games was the chemistry with teammates.

“It’s trying to make the reads, the give-and-go plays, that’s the harder part to come back to, reading off of each other,” he said. “Beating guys, one-on-one, and taking advantage of opportunities has almost become easier, but working with teammates again has been the part that’s harder, building those relationships with your teammates and understanding how they play the game.”

Fasching logged just 5:44 of ice time on Tuesday, but he had two hits and he played a bit on the penalty-killing unit that was a perfect three for three. He was happy to have the chance.

“I’m just excited to play hockey again and I have the energy to play,” he said. “Seven games is not a lot.”

Center Johan Larsson is the second Coyotes player to land in the COVID-19 protocols this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Larsson in Covid protocols

You can make a fair argument that Johan Larsson has been the Coyotes’ best forward this season; certainly among the top four. He is third among forwards in average ice time (17:41), he plays the critical center position, giving him myriad responsibilities, and he is a key member of the special teams.

It was a major blow to an already beleaguered team when Larsson landed in the COVID-19 protocols on Monday, making him unavailable for Tuesday’s game and beyond.

“He plays a lot of minutes,” Tourigny said. “He played power play in the last game (Nashville) and we scored. He has played PK all season long. He’s a top-four forward for us on the PK and he has played top-six (5-on-5). He is winning faceoffs on the left side. He is a big piece for sure and more than that, he’s a warrior. He has that old-school compete, no-excuses mentality we like.

“He’s been really good, but you don’t want that for anybody because it’s not just that they are not available.They cannot train, they cannot practice. You see the effect that it had on other players, other teams (Ottawa). There’s nothing we can do though. We do everything we can to stay healthy. We’ll just have to wait and see now.”

There were no new Coyotes in the protocols on Tuesday,  which was clearly good news, especially when you consider the situation in Ottawa where three games have already been postponed due to a significant outbreak.

The surprising thing, per three league sources outside Arizona, is that there had been no push from the NHL or the NHLPA to get booster shots for the players as of Monday, despite many players having been inoculated more than six months ago, the time frame after which multiple data show the vaccine loses some effectiveness

A source said that the Coyotes booster information would remain confidential, but another source said that it’s been “pretty quiet” in Arizona regarding getting boosters.

Chris Johnston reported on TSN’s Insider Trading on Tuesday that players who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are being encouraged by individual teams to get the booster, and a push could come from the league “in the next couple of weeks.”

It’s surprising that after making such a big push for vaccines, and after touting the fact that only a handful of NHL players had not been vaccinated, the league would not follow up to make sure that its players are getting the boosters in a timely fashion. 

I reached out to both the NHLPA and the NHL for comment on Monday, but had not received a response from either as of Wednesday morning.

In 12 games, Coyotes rookie goaltender Karel Vejmelka has a 3.29 goals against average and an .897 save percentage. (USA TODAY Sports)

Vejmelka’s struggles

Wedgewood got the start in goal on Tuesday and that was no surprise. He has played well in his brief stint here, as discussed above, and after a strong start, Karel Vejmelka has struggled. In his past three starts, Vejmelka has allowed 11 goals on 48 shots for a .771 save percentage. Those starts included a quick hook against Seattle when he allowed goals on the first two Kraken shots.

“He’s not as confident, that’s for sure,” Tourigny said. “I think there were a lot of pucks that were hitting him that don’t right now. Why? That’s a good question. We talked about it and we still believe in him, but that’s part of being a young goalie. He needs to find a solution.”

Coyotes goalie coach Corey Schwab can’t pinpoint one thing that is going wrong, but Vejmelka has not looked as composed and quiet as he did during a surprising start to his NHL career. 

“If he were able to keep up the pace that he was on for the first 10 games, any goalie that’s giving up two or fewer goals and has a .920 save percentage, you’re going to be one of the top goalies in the league,” Schwab said. “To think that that was just going to continue would be probably very high expectations for him. This is a little bump in the road right now, but to me, he’s approached it the right way and he’s going to continue to work and come out of it on the right end. 

“There’s always things we’re looking to improve on based on things that happened in the game and goals that are given up. We’ll look at different angles and see why he played it a certain way. He’s been very open to suggestions and looking at it honestly and accepting responsibility for the goals where he could have done something different.”

Dmitrij Jaškin’s return to the NHL from the KHL this season last just 12 games. (Getty Images)

Loose pucks

1. Forward Dmitrij Jaškin will have season-ending surgery in Arizona after a knee-on-knee hit from Nashville’s Mark Borowiecki on Saturday. GM Bill Armstrong said Jaškin is expected to rehab in Arizona.

2. Some help may be on the way for the Coyotes’ depleted roster. Tourigny said Monday that Dzingel is “day to day, he’s right there.”

3. In two games since returning from injury, defenseman Kyle Capobianco has a goal and an assist. Just as importantly, he is playing well in his own end and he is playing aggressively with the puck. Capobianco had the highest expected goals for percentage (65.32) of any Coyote in Tuesday’s game, per Natural Stat Trick. It’s a good sign for a player who needs to show something this season to sustain his career in Arizona. He’ll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the end of the season.

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