Vinnie Hinostroza has become known of late for his less-than-ecstatic reactions to scoring goals. But as Hinostroza notched his first career hat trick in a 6-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, even he had to give a modest celebration and wear a smile.
Hinostroza scored his 13th, 14th and 15th goals of the season on Thursday at Gila River Arena, a game that provided much-needed space between the Coyotes and the teams chasing them for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
At the end of play Thursday, the Coyotes were three points up on the Minnesota Wild — the team closest to them in the wild-card standings — and just four points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for third place in the Pacific Division.
The Coyotes have now won 10 of their last 12 games. And although Hinostroza found himself in the spotlight on Thursday, he’s quietly been a driving force during each of those games during the Coyotes’ recent tear of success as they push for their first playoff appearance since the 2011-12 season.
“Vinnie is really pushing the pace,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said after the game. “The last month, he’s really pushing the pace and putting a lot of heat on the other team’s defensemen. When he shoots the puck, he’s got a good shot and he can score.
“His game has gone to another level. This last month, I’ve really liked his game.”
Vinnie Hinostroza breaks down hat trick in Coyotes win vs. Ducks
Richard Morin, azcentral sports
After his three-goal game on Thursday, Hinostroza now has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in his last 12 games, which is the most productive 12-game stretch of Hinostroza’s career. Hinostroza also added he doesn’t believe he’s registered a hat trick since before college.
When Coyotes President of Hockey Operations and General Manager John Chayka went out and acquired Hinostroza this offseason, there was a clear belief within the organization that Hinostroza was not being properly utilized with the Chicago Blackhawks and possessed another level to his game.
Through 61 games this season (a career-high), Hinostroza has tallied 34 points. Entering this season, Hinostroza had a total of 39 points in 106 game across parts of three seasons with the Blackhawks. Despite a high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss 10 games back in December, Hinostroza has still pieced together a career year.
“I remember John called me when he made the deal and said, ‘This guy’s got high-level talent and potential,’” Tocchet said. “He’s really getting a chance. I’ve been playing him more over the last four or five weeks and he’s earned it. Like I said, there’s offense to his game in the sense that he can shoot the puck. We want him to shoot the puck more.”
In that vein, Hinostroza registered a career-high eight shots on goal Thursday. He hadn’t eclipsed more than four in a game since October.
“I think it’s just finding a way to be consistent,” Hinostroza said when asked which parts of his games have improved. “As you mature as a player, you learn how to take care of your body away from the rink so you can play better in the games. It’s working out. It all helps.”
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Hinostroza, a right-handed shot, has been afforded an exceptional opportunity playing on a line with center Brad Richardson and left wing Michael Grabner. A case can be made that it is Tocchet’s de-facto top line these days, given the unit’s ability to score, defend and, most importantly, push the pace of the game with exceptional speed.
Still, the spotlight isn’t a place where Hinostroza feels comfortable. There are many games where his face resembles more of a scowl than a smile after scoring a goal. But even Hinostroza had to admit Thursday felt pretty nice.
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet discusses 6-1 win vs. Ducks
Richard Morin, azcentral sports
“I’m excited,” Hinostroza said of the hat trick. “I haven’t scored three goals in a game since probably juniors. That’s something you don’t think about happening, but when it does it’s special. It comes in a win and during a time where we’re trying to hold a playoff spot down here. It’s pretty special.”
Shorthanded prowess continues
Captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson became the first defenseman to score a shorthanded goal for the Coyotes this season, tying their franchise record with 15 (set during the 1988-89 season).
Grabner leads the team and league with five shorthanded goals while center Brad Richardson boasts three shorties.
Both were credited with assists on Ekman-Larsson’s 12th goal of the season that gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead at 17:25 of the first period against Anaheim.
“We’ve got six or seven guys that can go (in the penalty kill), but I think that’s the key,” Tocchet said after the game. “If (Richardson) and (Grabner) get a little tired, we have other guys that can get out there and give us some energy.”
The Coyotes rank third in the league while shorthanded this season, killing 84.8 percent of their penalties.
“The penalty kill all year has given us juice,” Tocchet said. “This is one of the top (penalty killing) units for me because they all believe in the kind of system that we’re trying to do and they’re all pulling for each other.”
— Jenna Ortiz
- Defenseman Jakob Chychrun was a healthy scratch for the second straight game on Thursday. Chychrun tied a season-worst with a minus-3 rating in Monday’s 7-1 loss at Chicago.
- Forward Conor Garland also served as a healthy scratch Thursday and saw his name removed from the lineup for a fifth straight game.
- Goaltender Darcy Kuemper picked up his 19th win since Jan. 1, which is the most in the NHL over that span.
The score: Coyotes 6, Ducks 1.
The streak: W2.
The record: 36-30-5, 4th in Pacific.
The 82-game pace: 42-35-5, 89 points.
The position: 2nd wild-card; 4 points back of Vegas for 3rd in Pacific.
The player: Vinnie Hinostroza.
The moment: Jason Demers’ goal at 19:10 of the first period.
The number: 3 — The Coyotes are one of three teams (also Boston and Tampa Bay) to have won 13 or more games since Feb. 9.
The quote: “That’s what you’re looking for, these moments where certain guys rise to the occasion. We’re getting different guys and everybody is contributing.” — Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet.
View from the press box: The Coyotes’ run over the last month is pretty incredible. They have put themselves in a fairly comfortable position after the Wild dropped their third straight on Thursday.
Song of the night: “Separation” by Balance And Composure.