Johan Larsson was due.
The Arizona Coyotes’ 6-4 winThere was something for everyone in Thursday’s win over Chicago Blackhawks. Multiple power-play goals were scored by the Coyotes, who also got some impressive saves from Karel Vejmelka. They then held off a furious Blackhawks rally to win their seventh consecutive season victory. All the while, everyone on the roster contributed. Larsson, however, was the biggest loser of this season’s 19 games.
Related: 3 Takeaways from the Coyotes’ 3-1 Loss to the Winnipeg Jets
It’s not anymore.
Larsson scored his first-career triple hat trick to help the Coyotes win over their Central Division rival. The Coyotes now have two wins in their last four games. Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s win.
Larsson ended the night with three goals, and forward Travis Boyd had two assists and one goal in 15:57 of ice-time. Boyd continues to improve upon his career-year, upping his point total for the season to 16, which is the most productive he’s been since the 2018-19 season when he recorded 20 points with the Washington Capitals. He also has eight career-best goals.
Larsson scored his first goal of this season in 54 seconds. This crucial goal gave the Coyotes an important advantage of 2-0 heading into intermission. Considering Chicago’s Kirby Dach scored just one minute into the second, the late-period tally was especially helpful for a team that hasn’t played with the lead much this season.
“He’s a guy who’s easy to trust because he cares a lot,” said head coach André Tourigny. “He does the things right every day, and he has a lot of character. He’s a guy who’s not going to back down, he has a lot of push back.”
The Swede, aged 29, scored two in the third. One on the power-play was also a win. He secured the win with a 29 second remaining.
““It is crazy,” Larsson said. “You go a lot of games without [a goal]You can then take one more go in to feel better. It hits your stick and goes in, it feels good.”
Though Boyd and Larsson led in scoring, the entire Coyotes’ roster contributed in the box score. The team had six players record two-or-more points in the game, and rookie defenseman Janis Moser played especially well in just his fifth-career NHL game, earning an assist on Larsson’s first goal. The 21-year-old defenseman now has three points on the season, and has stepped up in Jakob Chychrun’s absence.
“It doesn’t surprise us, because he has a high IQ,” Tourigny said. “He’s willing to pay the price to make a play, he’s willing to take the hit, he’s willing to work. He goes to get the puck, he has a lot of speed on his puck recovery, he makes good plays with the puck, and he has a good feel for offense.”
In the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Coyotes selected Moser as the 60th overall pick.
While the Power Play was a success, Penalties continue to haunt.
The Coyotes capitalized on their man advantage by going 2-for-5 with the power play. However, the game’s turning point came in the third quarter when forward Clayton Keller scored his 11th of the season. Interim Blackhawks coach Derek King unsuccessfully challenged for goalie interference after claiming forward Andrew Ladd impeded Chicago goalie Marc-André Fleury, resulting in a two-minute delay of game penalty.
Larsson scored his second goal of night 50 seconds later. The Coyotes were up 5-2, having scored twice in less than a minute.
The lead was not secure, however, as the Coyotes had yet again difficulty staying out the penalty box. Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews pulled Chicago to within two, and then Arizona took back-to-back penalties shortly thereafter; first, a tripping call on Larsson, and then a delay of game on Anton Stralman immediately after the team had just killed off Larsson’s infraction.
The Coyotes weren’t able to kill off that second penalty, and Alex DeBrincat’s 21st goal of the season pulled Chicago to within one with still over six minutes to play. From there, Arizona was able to lock it down, withstand the Blackhawks’ rally, and Larsson’s empty netter secured the win, even if the final frame was a bit more interesting than it needed to be.
“You’ve got to be calm, there’s no point in yelling, or saying a bunch of crap that’s not going to help,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who had two assists on Thursday, said. “You need to go out there, play the right way, you know they’re going to come with a push, they’re going to take more chances, but trust the system, be defensive, sit in, and it worked.”
Vejmelka stands tall yet again
Vejmelka had a few rough outings to close out 2022, but it sure seems like that’s all in the rearview mirror. Sure, allowing four goals on 36 shots isn’t the best box score for a goalie (.889 save percentage), but it was the caliber of the netminder’s saves, not to mention the timing, that helped Arizona top the Blackhawks.
“It’s great,” Larsson said. “He’s been really good all year, he comes up really big in the big moments like power plays and PKs, so it was good. He’s been a really good horse for us back there.”
Vejmelka did what he’s done all season, and finally got a little goal support along the way. The 25-year-old Czech, who is playing North American hockey for the first time in his career, had a particularly impressive performance in the first period, and almost single-handedly helped kill an early penalty to preserve the Coyotes’ lead at the time.
It’s more of the same from ‘Veggie,’ whose performance this season is has been nothing short of impressive.
Nashville Predators’ Stellar Power Play Awaits
The Coyotes’ next opponent is the Nashville Predators, who will take on the Coyotes at Gila River Arena at 6 pm local. Arizona cannot afford to take nearly as many penalties against the Central Division-leading Preds, who currently own the league’s sixth-best power play. Their penalty kill is almost equally impressive, ranking 10th in the league at 82.30 percent, so Saturday’s game is going to be a true test for the Coyotes’ special teams.
The Predators won their first meeting, 4-1, on Nov. 13. Now the Coyotes have to face a difficult test when the puck drops Saturday.
Iowa State alumnus, I am a diehard hockey fan living in the desert. Contributor to The Hockey Writers for Arizona Coyotes and Detroit Red Wings.