GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes have spent the last week digging their way out of an early-season hole. And if they are done with the shovel, the Minnesota Wild would like to borrow it.
The Coyotes ran their points streak to five straight games and continued their mastery over the Wild on Monday night when Lauri Korpikoski and Martin Hanzal scored goals in the first and second period and goalie Mike Smith -- now rounding into shape between the pipes -- made sure they were enough with 21 saves to squeeze out a 2-1 win at Jobing.com Arena.
With Smith, Hanzal and Steve Sullivan all back from injuries, the Coyotes look more like last year's Western Conference finalists. Phoenix is now 3-0-2 in the last five games and back to 4-4-2 overall after a listless, injury-plagued 1-4-0 start. The Coyotes are now 9-2-2 in their last 13 games against Minnesota and are 41-15-6 against Northwest Division teams in three-plus years under coach Dave Tippett.
"I'm feeling more comfortable with my game now, like I'm holding my own in there, and when you get guys like Hanzal and (Steve Sullivan), your top players, back it gives the whole team confidence," said Smith, who has allowed one goal in the last seven-plus periods. "Marty gets a big goal for us and when we have our big guns we are tough to beat."
The Coyotes paid for a physical price for the win. Defenseman David Schlemko left the arena with his right arm in a sling after falling awkwardly on his right shoulder in the first period. Tippett said he will be out for a least a few weeks. Another defenseman, Zbynek Michalek, took a puck in the left cheek in the final seconds to help preserve the win.
"To see guys diving for the puck, getting hit in the face … that's what it's going to take to win," Smith said.
Meanwhile, the Wild are now 2-4-1 after a 2-0 start and held a 20-minute, players-only meeting after putting only four shots on goal in the final 23-plus minutes off the game. Zach Parise scored his 200th career goal and the Wild had the majority of the good scoring chances, but not many late until Pierre Marc-Bouchard hit the post on the second of two power plays in the third period. The Wild did register a shot on goal on either man advantage.
"We had a lot better effort than the last game (Friday's 3-1 loss in Anaheim) but it's still not there," Minnesota defenseman Tom Gilbert said. "It's a bit frustrating … we need to play better. The season is a lot shorter and the urgency has to be there every night. We have to find ways to win."
Parise added: "There have been too many games already this year where we have come back (to the dressing room) saying we did things OK. It doesn't matter. The bottom line is, we aren't winning."
Niklas Backstrom won his first eight decisions against the Coyotes, but hasn't had much luck since. He's now 3-9 in the last 12 starts against Phoenix and his 30 saves weren't good enough this time.
It was an interesting first period for Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle. He left Smith hanging when he fell down during Coyotes power play 13 minutes into the game – but Smith poke-checked the puck away from Kyle Brodziak on the shorthanded breakaway. Then, two minutes later, Smith was caught wandering behind his own net and it was Yandle who saved the day – getting a skate on a Mikael Granlund shot destined for the net and steering it wide of the post.
"We kind of thanked each other after the first period," Smith said. "We owe each other a steak dinner. We crossed ourselves out."
On the same shift he saved a goal, Yandle let a shot go from the point that Korpikoski deflected down and under Backstrom at 15:09 on Phoenix's 16th shot of the period. Korpikoski's four goals this season have come against Finnish countrymen, with Backstrom joining Kari Lehtonen (Dallas), Antti Niemi (San Jose) and Pekka Rinne (Nashville) on his hit list.
The Coyotes made it 2-0 in the second in similar fashion. Smith topped Ryan Suter's shot from the point and Michalek sent Radim Vrbata the other way. Backstrom stopped Vrbata's shot, but left a rebound in the slot for Hanzal to steer around and sweep home at 7:48. Hanzal's fourth goal was his third in three games since returning from a lower-body injury.
"This is pretty much Coyotes hockey," Hanzal said. "We had a very good couple of games, especially today."
The Wild kept pressuring Phoenix's sloppy play in their own end, and it paid off less than two minutes later. Parise gobbled up a Mikkel Boedker turnover and wristed goal No. 200 by Smith at 9:40. The goal snapped a 121 minute, 26-second scoreless streak for Smith and put the Wild right back in the game.
But the Coyotes controlled the play and the clock from there.
"I'd rather be 10-0, but we've dug ourselves out of a little hole here," Tippett said. "The last four or five games we've gotten back to the way we need to play I lot of guys paid the price to win, and that's what you have to do."
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