The Coyotes were unable to shut down the top unit of the Edmonton Oilers as they saw an early two-goal lead collapse en route to a 4-2 defeat at Gila River Arena on Friday.
After a league-mandated, five-day break, Arizona got off to a fast start on Friday — scoring twice within the span of 1:14 to stake themselves to an early lead in the first.
Just over two minutes into the game, Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun rifled a puck on net that was picked up by winger Nick Cousins and wristed off the crossbar. That’s when center Brad Richardson pounced on the loose puck and swept it into the net for the game’s first goal and his second goal of the season.
Arizona continued its early onslaught when center Christian Dvorak sent a horizontal pass through the crease where winger Josh Archibald scored his second goal of the year on a one-timer that beat Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot and chased the netminder from the game just 3:17 into the contest.
But the Oilers quickly found their legs after a power play injected some life into the offense. With less than six minutes to go in the first, Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse beat Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta with a shot from the blueline to cut the Edmonton deficit in half.
“We beat ourselves but didn’t have many chances,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said. “We just beat ourselves. Same song and dance. Couple of guys giving the puck away and then it’s inside our net.”
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet on a tough loss to the Oilers.
The Coyotes continued to play into the Oilers’ hands and a series of turnovers eventually led to the demise of their early advantage, when Oilers center Connor McDavid juked out defenders on a play that eventually ended on a tap-in goal by Edmonton winger Patrick Maroon to even the game after one period.
“You’ve got to protect the house and you’ve got to protect the middle,” Tocchet said of the Oilers’ first goal. “We lost Maroon in front and if we tie up his stick there’s no goal.”
McDavid’s speed, hustle and elite stick-handling gave Coyotes defenders fits throughout the entirety of the game.
“You look at that line,” Coyotes winger Josh Archibald said. “McDavid’s line, you’ve got three of the top players in the league. That’s one thing we wanted to do was shut that line down. Unfortunately we couldn’t and I think that’s what hurt us.
“You’ve got guys like McDavid who can be anywhere on the ice. We just didn’t shut him down the way we wanted to tonight.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Nurse potted his second goal with another blue-line shot that exploded past Raanta and into the top-right corner of the net to give Edmonton a 3-2 lead.
The Coyotes got their first power play with 3:49 left but could not even the game, and Montoya needed just 19 saves to hold on for the win. Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins added an empty-netter to ice the game with 20 seconds left.
Each of the first three Oilers’ goals were scored with their top unit on the ice.
“I thought we got away from our game a little,” Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “A solid second but obviously we didn’t really find a cure against their top line. I think they scored all three goals with those guys there. When you get a start like that, we should be able to play better defensively and find a way to get back to that start.”
Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson breaks down loss to the visiting Oilers.
The top Edmonton line of McDavid, Maroon, Draisaitl — along with their top defense pair of Nurse and Adam Larsson — proved too much for the Coyotes to handle down the stretch.
“It’s tough to say one specific thing but coverage could have been a little bit better,” Hjalmarsson said. “At the same time they’ve got a couple of guys whose individual skill levels are extremely high. You have to be aware of who’s on the ice because those guys can do some special things. But that’s not an excuse. We should have gotten away with a couple points here.”
Coyotes insider Richard Morin gives the plus and minus from Friday’s loss to the Oilers.
The score: Oilers 4, Coyotes 2.
The streak: L2.
The record: 10-28-6, 8th in Pacific.
The 82-game pace: 18-50-12.
The player: Darnell Nurse.
The moment: The Oilers’ power play at 5:48 of the first period that injected life into the Edmonton offense.
The number: 2 — The number of penalties called in Friday’s game.
The quote: “It’s obviously frustrating since the start that we had was so great. We did everything we wanted to. I think we got too pretty and got away from our systems and the way we were supposed to pla,y and they just took it to us.” — Coyotes winger Josh Archibald on allowing four unanswered goals after taking an early 2-0 lead.
View from the press box: The Coyotes showed no signs of rust after scoring twice in the game’s first four minutes, but it was back to more of the same when they were unable to hold their early lead en route to a tough loss.
Song of the night: “Right Back At It Again” by A Day To Remember.
OEL back to form?
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson may be the team’s lone representative at this year’s All-Star Game, but he still has a lot to justify this season.
While Ekman-Larsson is fourth on the team in scoring, inconsistencies in the defenseman’s play have been apparent in the first half of the season. For assistant coach and defensive specialist Scott Allen, he’s hoping the All-Star selection can help Ekman-Larsson get back to playing at an All-Star level.
“Consistency is probably the biggest thing and that’s the biggest thing for all these guys,” Allen said. “That’s the biggest thing for anybody in life is to be able to do it consistently day in day out … Sometimes you’ll see that All-Star level in a few games and then all of a sudden it’ll be a tough turnover. And maybe that tough turnover ends up in the back of the net.”
Ekman-Larsson is the longest-tenured player on the Coyotes’ roster, which undoubtedly provides as much challenge to adapting to a new head coach and a new system as it would a rookie.
Allen said the implementation of a new playing system has been a work-in-progress not only for Ekman-Larsson, but for several of the veterans acquired in the offseason.
“We’re all creatures of habit,” Allen said. “So if you’re used to doing something a certain way and you’re used to playing within a certain system — and then things change — then it does take time. When the intensity ramps up and certain situations arise, we all have a tendency to go back to what we’re comfortable with. And for sure that has happened not only for him, but for anybody when you’re trying to put that new system in place. It’s going to take time.”
The Coyotes are hoping that the second half of the season will showcase why the new system was worth putting in place, and that their franchise defenseman will flourish within it.
“Obviously OEL is a dynamic offensive defenseman,” Allen said. “But from the defensive side he’s playing against the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis so you know it doesn’t show right now in the win-loss column for us, but the fact that we’re able to hang with a lot of teams and push … I mean we’re not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination and we’re still very much a work-in-progress. But he’s a big piece of that work-in-progress for us.”
The 26-year-old Ekman-Larsson will participate in his second All-Star Game in Tampa later this month. As a coach, Allen said he always takes great pride in the accomplishments of his players.
“Extremely happy for him,” Allen said. “You know, now he’s he’s a two-time All-Star and this franchise has only had one three time All-Star and that was (Keith) Tkachuk. So we’re hoping that he ties and passes that in the years to come. But for now, personally, I’m very proud and happy for him.”