RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phoenix Coyotes forward Rob Klinkhammer is 27 years old and just 45 games into his NHL career. Seeing those numbers in the same sentence suggests the 6-foot-3 winger is a journeyman, or more charitably, a late-bloomer.
After six years in the American Hockey League, Klinkhammer was no longer sure he had an NHL career ahead of him.
"It's a grind down there with the bus trips," Klinkhammer said. "You see guys getting called up and you try not to be negative. You're like, When is it going to be my shot?"
After a two-goal effort in the Coyotes' 5-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday at PNC Arena, Klinkhammer's opportunity is likely to grow.
In a game marred by 18 minor penalties, Klinkhammer managed a pair of even-strength goals, including the game winner. He tied the game at 2-2 in the second period, whacking away at a loose puck in the crease. Then early in the third period, he drilled a shot past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward on a two-on-one for a 4-3 lead.
It wasn't so long ago that Klinkhammer wondered if his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010-11 might leave him with one single NHL game to his credit. But after 15 games with the Ottawa Senators the following season, he followed up with 11 points in 22 games for the Coyotes in 2012-13 to earn a two-year contract.
Now he's making the most of the skills he honed in the AHL for so many years.
"I just try to be reliable. I don't do anything fancy," Klinkhammer said. "Maybe it's not the top-end NHL skill, but I can definitely get by in the AHL for sure. I was just consistent down there and put up a few points."
The Coyotes are putting up a few points too, thanks to a three-game winning streak to round out a five-game road trip. Now 4-2 on the season, Phoenix seems to have put a couple lopsided losses to the San Jose Sharks and the New York Islanders behind them.
"We've stabilized our game, for sure," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "When you go on the road for five games, your backs are against the wall. Winning three out of five road games is going in the right direction. Hopefully we can go home and keep playing the right way."
The Coyotes started out strong when Mikkel Boedker knocked in a rebound in the first period. Hurricanes captain Eric Staal tied the game before the first intermission.
After Riley Nash gave Carolina its first lead of the game in the second period, Klinkhammer scored the first of his two. Then the game took a few unusual turns.
Moments later, Carolina starting goalie Anton Khudobin left the game after taking an awkward spill. He came out to play a puck in the top of the left circle, but fell to his knees. After making his way back to the crease, he signaled the bench for help, needing assistance to skate off the ice on one leg. He stopped 18 of 20 Phoenix shots before being replaced by Ward.
After the game, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller had no update on Khudobin, but conceded that it "didn't look good the way he came off." Khudobin will be further evaluated on Monday.
As the second period progressed, Phoenix began a parade to the penalty box. The Coyotes penalty kill fended off 1:56 of Carolina power-play time, relying on Lauri Korpikoski, Martin Hanzal and Zbynek Michalek during one key stretch to keep the Hurricanes at bay.
"You try to stay tight and let them shoot from the outside," said Korpikoski, whose one-timer gave Phoenix a 3-2 lead a short time later. "You try to take the most dangerous passes away through the triangle. The goalie was a big part of it too. They got a couple chances, but nothing through the seam. Those are the ones that hurt you."
Phoenix goalie Mike Smith stopped 31 shots for his third win. In all, the teams combined for 18 minor penalties, 11 to Phoenix and seven to Carolina.
Carolina's Jeff Skinner scored for the second straight game, tying the game at 3-3 in the final minute of the period. But Klinkhammer was difference maker early in the third, beating Ward to the short side. Shane Doan, who was held scoreless in his first five games, gave the Coyotes a two-goal cushion.
For a team at the end of a road trip, the Coyotes had just enough offense left in the tank to finish off the Hurricanes.
"It's funny, our M.O. in the past has always been that we work hard and try to do everything right inside our system," Doan said. "But slowly we've been adding more and more skill. Take Mikkel Boedker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle and Radim Vrbata. Now they bring in Mike Ribeiro. All of a sudden, there are a lot of guys who can make plays. That's exciting for me. We're definitely getting better."
The Hurricanes may not be so sure.
"I'm not very happy at all," said Carolina coach Kirk Muller. "A few guys came ready to battle and play their game, but we had too many passengers tonight and some of our top guys didn't bring their 'A' game. We just didn't put the work into it today.
"I didn't like our compete level or our life today. You've got to create the intensity in these afternoon games. We set ourselves up to go out and have a good third period, but we didn't bring it."
But the Coyotes are clicking, and now they're heading back home for six out of the next eight games. They will rely on some of the high-skill guys, and they'll take whatever contribution they can get from Klinkhammer, who knows he has something to offer in the NHL.
"I know it doesn't work out for everyone, but I'm thankful every day to be here," Klinkhammer said. "I love it. It's a lifetime of hard work paying off."
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