By Mark Carlisle
After a December to forget, the Coyotes did not start 2019 on the right foot.
In their first game of the new year, the Coyotes were overpowered by Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who beat Arizona 3-1 in Gila River Arena in Glendale Wednesday night.
McDavid had a hand in all three of the Oilers’ goal, scoring two and assisting on one
“Connor McDavid was the difference,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said after the game.
Leon Draisaitl also contributed an assist and a goal for Edmonton.
The Coyotes came out strong and took a 1-0 lead after the first period. They dominated the opening frame, with 16 shots on goal against seven for the Oilers. Their only goal came when Richard Panik connected on a pass to Brad Richardson standing at the back post. Richardson knocked it into the net for his 11th goal of the season, which leads the team. Kevin Connauton also assisted on the play.
The Oilers took over in the second. Three minutes in, Draisaitl won a faceoff in the Coyotes’ end, and McDavid poked the puck out to Adam Larsson who sent in a waist-high shot that Draisaitl knocked down, sending it bouncing through Coyotes goalie Adin Hill’s legs to tie the game at one.
Then with 6:17 left in the 2nd period, Zack Kassian flung it into center ice for the speedy McDavid, who was alone on a fast break. McDavid deked and backhanded the puck through Hill’s five-hole.
Tocchet said the team talked about staying “above” McDavid on the fast break, but they didn’t on that play. Tocchet said if you give McDavid even one opportunity, he’ll make you pay.
“We get a couple of chances and we miss the net or we don’t score. He just gets the one breakaway and scores. That’s what high-end players do,” Tocchet said.
Tocchet said the Coyotes were a little rattled by McDavid’s goal, but he was proud of the way they responded, not giving up any scoring opportunities in the third period for Edmonton to extend its lead, until Arizona pulled the goalie. It was an improvement over Sunday night at home, when the Coyotes were down 2-1 after two periods and allowed three goals in the final frame.
Still, Arizona couldn’t find the equalizer, even after pulling Hill with two minutes left. They’re best opportunity to tie it up came when Clayton Keller had a chance for a rebound off a shot from Richardson, but Keller hit the back of the net. Tocchet said the puck was on edge.
“We had chances and we’re just not getting them. It’s tough. You know, we’re a little challenged right now. But they brought energy tonight, so I’m glad,” Tocchet said.
Instead, McDavid blocked a shot from Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the top of the zone, and then easily outskated Ekman-Larsson to dunk the puck in for an empty-net goal.
The Coyotes are now 6-10 since the start of December after an 11-11-2 start for a team that has not had a .500 season since 2013-14.
McDavid now has 23 goals to lead Edmonton. His empty-netter broke a tie with Draisaitl, who now has 22. McDavid’s 61 points now puts him at third-most in the league.
In goal Mikko Koskinen saved 29 of 30 shots the Coyotes sent his way. Hill stopped 17 of 19.
The Coyotes have been successful in Hill’s intermittent starts to fill in for Darcy Kuemper. They were 7-4 before Wednesday. Hill and Kuemper have been getting more time in the crease with regular starter Antti Raanta out indefinitely with a lower-body injury suffered in late November.
Hill said he’s glad his team trusts him, but he wanted a better result Wednesday.
“It’s exciting that they have that belief in me, but it’s disappointing that I didn’t come away with two points tonight,” he said.
The save of the night came in the first period when Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira crossed the puck on a fast break to Ryan Spooner who took a slap shot from 15 feet out, but Hill dove across the goal to make a tough pad save.
The Coyotes will maintain their crown as the best penalty-killing team in the league. They shut down Edmonton on all three of its power plays, increasing their penalty-kill percentage to 88.
However, the offensively-challenged Coyotes are 22nd in the lead in converting power plays. The Coyotes didn’t even make Koskinen make a save in the 58 seconds of 5-on-4 play before an Arizona penalty turned it to 4-on-4.
Stars come out
The NHL All-Star rosters were announced before the game Wednesday. Keller was the Coyotes only representative, making his first All-Star appearance in his second season. In 2017-18, Keller set the Coyotes rookie records for goals, assists and points with 23 goals and 42 assists. So far this season, Keller has eight goals and 21 assists.
Keller was outshined Wednesday night by Edmonton’s lone All-Star, McDavid, who made his third All-Star Game in his third full season. McDavid also won the Fastest Skater skills challenge during All-Star weekend each of the last two seasons.
Ekman-Larsson, who was the Coyotes lone All-Star last season, still has a chance to make it this year. He will be on the Last Men In ballot, where fans can vote to add one player to each of the four divisions’ rosters. Draisaitl is also on Pacific Division’s ballot, as are Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, Calgary’s Mark Giordano, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar, San Jose’s Logan Couture, Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault and Vancouver’s Brock Boesser, who was the game’s MVP last year as a rookie.
Last Men In voting opens at 10 a.m. Arizona Time Thursday and closes at 9:59 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10. Fans can’t vote more than 10 times in 24 hours.
The 2019 NHL All-Star Game is at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26 in San Jose, California.