The Phoenix Coyotes ended a three-game losing streak by reverting to their old formula -- tight checking, good goaltending and timely scoring.
Phoenix entered the game with a 14-6-4 record, though its success came despite an uncharacteristically leaky defense. But the Coyotes tightened up in front of their backup goaltender to end the Wild's six-game winning streak at Xcel Energy Center.
"It's been coming for a while," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said of the improved defensive work. "We can go back a few weeks ago, and I didn't think we were playing well enough to win even though we were winning. We know we have to get back to playing a real tight defending game, and our offensive has been good. It hasn't been an issue. We have to defend better, and hopefully tonight was a step in that direction."
Mikkel Boedker had the other goal for the Coyotes, who are off until they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. Dany Heatley had the only goal for Minnesota (15-7-4), which hosts the Colorado Avalanche on Friday to start a home-and-home series.
“It was huge to get that first goal and play with a lead,” Vrbata said. “That’s something we obviously like and are successful with."
Greiss, signed during the summer to back up Mike Smith, has won all three of his starts this season.
"He's been real solid," Tippett said. "He's really earned the respect of his teammates in practice. When he gets an opportunity to play, he's played well."
Phoenix grabbed the lead 8:13 into the game thanks to a quick defense-to-offense transition. Defenseman Derek Morris broke up a rush in his own zone and triggered a 2-on-1 break the other way. Boedker carried the puck down the left side, moved into the left circle and snapped a shot over Niklas Backstrom's glove for his sixth goal of the season.
Greiss made his best stop about 4 1/2 minutes later. Heatley redirected a pass through Greiss' pads, but the goaltender got enough of the puck to deflect it just wide of the post.
Aside from Heatley's chance, the Coyotes dominated play for the rest of the period. They outshot Minnesota 12-5, and only the play of Backstrom (23 saves) kept the Wild within a goal after 20 minutes.
"We're not coming out with the same force in our game, like we're going to dictate and take control." Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "We're very reactive, on our heels.
"We're going out there and trying to be safe. When we're at our best, we're playing an aggressive game both with and without the puck."
Phoenix doubled its lead 3:42 into the second period when Tim Kennedy carried the puck around the net and centered to Vrbata, who got off a one-timer an instant before Mikko Koivu's stick would have gotten in the way. Vrbata's shot caught the far corner.
The Coyotes were outshot 10-3 in the middle period, but Minnesota generated few serious chances against Greiss. The Wild's best chance came when Heatley had a jam shot near the right post, but Greiss extended his pad to keep the puck out of the net.
"The 'D' was great all night today," Greiss said. "They played a solid game. We talked about cutting chances down, blocking more shots and helping the goalie out... I know my role on the team. When I get my chance, I try to do my best.""
The Wild finally solved Greiss at 10:02 of the third. Greiss stopped Nino Niederreiter's slap shot, which went through a screen, but couldn't control the puck, and Heatley batted it out of the air and into the net for his fifth goal of the season.
The Wild's best chance to tie the game came with just more than two minutes remaining when Charlie Coyle jabbed at a rebound with Greiss down, but the puck went over the net. Kyle Brodziak's interference penalty with 44.3 seconds remaining forced the Wild to play down a man as they tried for the equalizer, and Vrbata hit the empty net with 22.9 seconds left to seal the win.
"We managed the puck really well tonight," Vrbata said. "We want to play in the opposition's zone as much as we can, and I think we did that tonight."
Minnesota played without its leading scorer, Zach Parise, who's out with a contusion of his left foot. The Wild announced Tuesday that he would miss 2-3 weeks, but Parise skated with the team Wednesday morning, though he didn't dress for the game.
The Wild also played all but 29 seconds without forward Mikael Granlund, who was returning from an upper-body injury. He took a high hit while trying to deliver a check to Phoenix defenseman Connor Murphy on the first shift of the game, left the ice and didn't return. The Wild did not disclose any details of his injury.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.
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