After a decent Canadian road trip which included a victory over the Vancouver Canucks, the Phoenix Coyotes returned home to the friendly confines of Jobing.com Arena for a three-game homestand that began against the playoff-contending Minnesota Wild.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes, uncharacteristic sloppy play in their own end led to two early Minnesota goals that the Desert Dogs were unable to overcome, and the Wild left Glendale with a 4-3 victory Monday night.
Goaltender Mike Smith was unable to hold the 'Yotes in the game as he gave up four goals in the first two periods before being replaced by backup Jason LaBarbera. The usually reliable Smith looked exhausted and frustrated after the Coyotes continued to give up odd-man rushes that led to three of the Minnesota goals and countless chance that Smith was able to keep out of the net.
The Coyotes started the game off placing solid pressure on the Wild and out-shooting them early in the game 9-1. Jason Zucker opened the scoring for the Wild only 1:35 into the game, re-directing a Matt Cullen shot past Smith to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.
Dany Heatley would then bang home his first of two on the night, wristing a shot from close range on a 2-on-1 break over Smith's stick-side shoulder to make it 2-0 late in the first period.
The Coyotes started the game off placing solid pressure on the Wild, out-shooting them early in the game 9-1. After Zucker's goal, the 'Yotes responded well, but, Heatley's goal deflated the squad and in the second period, the Wild looked to capitalize.
Heatley would get his second goal of the game, hammering home a slap shot from the slot over Smith's glove. The Wild would then concede a goal to the Coyotes as Rostislav Klesla jumped up in the play to score his first on the season to cut the lead to 3-1 at the 10:58 mark of the second period.
The Wild responded shortly thereafter by scoring one of their own, this time taking advantage of a Raffi Torres penalty, as Jared Spurgeon scored after a scramble in front of the net to make it 4-1.
The Coyotes would make a game of it late, though, as both Keith Yandle and Shane Doan scored with less than five minutes left in the third. But, the damage was done as the Coyotes could not find the equalizer and will now rue the chances that they missed early in the game in getting off to a disappointing start on this homestand.
The frustrating part of Thursday's game was the multiple odd-man rushes that the Coyotes gave up throughout the contest. Smith was left hanging out to dry and his frustration was warranted because the mistakes that the 'Yotes were making were out of the ordinary.
Dave Tippett will have to get back to the drawing board as the Coyotes welcome Pacific Division rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, to the Den for two-straight games Saturday and Monday.
Smith got some much-needed rest in the third and will have to be at his very best to corral a Ducks team that is sitting in second place in the Western Conference and is 8-2 in their last 10 games.