Keith Yandle after he scored his first goal of the season Saturday against the Oilers.
If there was a question regarding the offensive play of Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle, the answer came Saturday afternoon.
As a perennial scoring leader among NHL defensemen, Yandle’s slow start put him under the microscope. With just two assists in his first nine games of the season, the drought left pundits worried about his acute offensive skills.
One theory concluded the emergence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson pushed Yandle into the background.
Not so, say the participants, who report all is well with Yandle, a native of Boston and rabid Red Sox fan.
“I’m not doing anything different and not disappointed with the start,” Yandle said after Saturday’s 5-4 win over Edmonton at home. “As far as the points and numbers, I don’t pay attention to that stuff. I’m doing the things I’m suppose to do to help us win hockey games.”
Yandle led the Coyotes in scoring last season and ranked third among NHL defensemen in that category. Over the past four seasons, he recorded double-digit goals each year and reached a career high in points (59) in 2010-11.
If there were concerns about his offensive game, fear no more.
In his last three games, Yandle picked up six points and was instrumental in Saturday’s victory.
With Phoenix down 4-3 midway through the final period, Yandle ripped a 35-foot slap shot from the slot, and the puck eluded Oilers goalie Jason LaBarbera. That represented Yandle’s first goal of the season and deadlocked matters.
Yet, he was not finished.
With the Coyotes on the power play later in the period, Yandle dived across the blue line to keep the puck in the Oilers’ end. The disc was picked up by Ekman-Larsson, whose shot deflected off LaBarbera’s pads and into the Edmonton net for the game-winner.
Yandle’s two points in the third period came at critical times and regained his stature as an important offensive contributor.
His effort on the power play to keep the puck in the Oilers’ zone also demonstrated a strong defensive focus.
Using a Red Sox analogy, Yandle corrected one reporter. The writer suggested the dive at the blue line was similar to a stop made by Nomar Garciaparra, the former Boston shortstop. Not quite, Yandle said, “I thought it was more like Dustin Pedroia.”
If Yandle was not concerned about his lack of offense from the first nine games, his coach similarly dismissed any apprehension.
“He’s getting his shots and contributing on the power play,” said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett before Saturday’s game with the Oilers. “Plus, he’s working well on both sides, offensive and defense. No concerns. He’s fine and his chances will come.”
After Yandle’s important two-point, third-period contribution, Tippett entered the media room for his postgame news conference.
Upon entering the session, he glanced over to the reporter who asked about Yandle prior to the game. Tippett merely smiled, and the reporter acknowledged.
The silent gestures implied all is well with Keith Yandle.
Mark Brown is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first hand.