Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Game #21: Phoenix 3, Minnesota 2


Streaks come to an end sometime. Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's woeful career record in Minnesota meant little Wednesday night, as did Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom's numbers against the Coyotes.

This game maybe looked familiar to Wild fans. The Coyotes, under coach Dave Tippett, basically play a style similar to Jacques Lemaire's. Tippett knows his team doesn't have the greatest of offensive talent, and he preaches defense. And especially on the road, playing without several regulars, including defenseman Ed Jovanovski, the Coyotes look to slow the play down and not allow many chances.

They played that style to perfection in the first period, conceding just four shots to the Wild, before Minnesota found its legs in the final 40 minutes. Phoenix looks to limit the opponent's chances to score and must capitalize on its own, and that's what the Coyotes did, scoring on a 2-on-1 in the third period and getting Scottie Upshall's winner off a juicy rebound left by Backstrom.

Wild offense: Antti Miettinen ruled the night, being part of a sweet give-and-go with Mikko Koivu to set up Andrew Brunette's goal, then scored the tying goal himself late in the third period.

Wild defense: Was run ragged in the first period and lucky not to be losing after the opening 20 minutes, but two breakdowns led to both Phoenix goals in the third.

Coyotes offense: Upshall had a number of chances throughout the night and stuck a dagger into the Wild just 19 seconds after Miettinen made it 2-2. An unexpected contribution from defensive stalwart Jim Vandermeer aided the cause.

Coyotes defense: One of the better defensive plays was by Bryzgalov, whose little poke of a centering pass led to the Vandermeer goal. Overall, the defensemen were great early, but it helped that the attack was mainly in Minnesota's zone. They began to falter as the night went along and began giving up more chances.

Leader: Phoenix's Radim Vrbata, one of the streakiest players (good and bad) in the league. He can score 10 goals in a seven-game stretch or go 10 games without a goal. He had two points tonight, including a power play goal, and his excellent outlet pass freed Vandermeer on the 2-on-1. Never mind that the power play goal came on a brutal slashing call; those things happen and must be handled. Vrbata also made a subtle little play late in the game with Backstrom pulled to bleed the clock a little rather than risk an icing call.

Lagger: Was that Martin Havlat signing an April Fool's joke in July?

Stud: Bryzgalov. He made some big stops in the final moments while protecting that one-goal lead.

Dud: Backstrom. Got beat by Jim Vandermeer and I still don't know how that Upshall goal slipped by him.

The Assembled Multitude:

Chicken Little: Did we really just lose at home to Phoenix? A team that can't score at all? Oh wait, neither can the Wild.

Pollyanna: Hey, the Coyotes have shut down better offenses than ours, like Pittsburgh, San Jose and Chicago. No shame in losing to this team. At least we scored some 5-on-5 goals!

Bottom line: The Coyotes aren't the walk-over many people might assume they are. They may have slowed from their hot-start but especially on the road, they're going to be a tough team to play against, and nothing should be assumed when playing them.

Next: Home against the Islanders, another "don't take us lightly" team, Friday at 7 p.m. CT on KSTC and XM 207.

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