CHICAGO – The Coyotes, forced by an injury to play with just five defensemen for nearly 55 minutes, lost their first game of the season Wednesday night, a 4-1 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
Peter Mueller’s power-play goal, a wrister from the right circle moments after a 5-on-3 advantage had expired, gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead 4:30 into the second period.
That was the end of the good times for Phoenix (2-1-0), however, as Chicago scored four unanswered goals within the final 29 minutes of the game to post its first victory in four tries.
“We knew they were going to have a lot of energy tonight,” Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky said. “They’re a better team than their record had indicated after three games. There is a lot of skill over there and they did a lot of little things well tonight. They finished all their checks, they were hard on pucks, the goalie was good and they deserved to win… Maybe it’s sort of a wake-up (call) in the sense that we’ve still got 79 games to go and there are a lot of good teams at this level.”
Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris suffered a hand injury during a fight with Chicago’s Adam Burish five minutes and six seconds into the game and did not play after that.
“It was a tough loss (losing Morris),” Coyotes forward Kyle Turris said. “…I mean, he’s one of the best defenseman in the league. He’s probably one of the best at making breakout passes up the middle and it was a big loss to the team. We tried working through it, but it’s a big hole to fill.”
Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 29 of 30 shots against his former team. Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 26 of 30 shots.
Martin Havlat’s goal was the prettiest of Chicago’s four and it tied the score at 1 with 8:25 left before the second intermission. Havlat skated up the left side, cut across the ice around traffic, then put a back-hand shot top shelf over Bryzgalov’s outstretched glove.
Patrick Sharp finished a rebound off a shot by Duncan Keith to give Chicago a 2-1 lead with 57.8 seconds left in the second period, and the Coyotes got no closer.
Wednesday’s game was loaded with physical play and numerous melees broke out. Twenty-three penalties were called, including six for roughing.
“I think we got caught up in the emotional part of the game, which is good to an extent, but I think it got the better of us and mentally drained us,” defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “…I think for the most part we’ve got to worry about playing the hockey game and not get caught up in the extra garbage.”
Once behind, the Coyotes played out of their system.
“We tried to play too easy of a game and after the first period and a half we started to cheat a little bit and when you cheat you’re going to get beat at this level and that’s what happened,” Gretzky said.