GLENDALE, Ariz. – Phoenix’s forte had been to play steady defence, score opportunistically and hold on for one-goal wins.
When those one-goal games started to go the other way, the Coyotes were in trouble and knew they had to fix it fast.
They couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.
Battered and backpedaling, the Coyotes ended a streak of 10 straight losses in one-goal games with a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night in their final game before the all-star break.
“It’s funny, you look at a one-goal game and you look at the third period or this one play here right at the end that cost you the game, but it’s really a culmination of everything,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. “I think we’re getting that figured out and we’ll get better.”
Phoenix played its usual close-to-the-vest game, getting a goal from Gilbert Brule late in the first period, another from Doan late in the second. Radim Vrbata gave the Coyotes a two-goal lead 1:30 into the third period, but Ottawa’s Chris Neil responded just 16 seconds later.
Unlike the previous 10 games, which included three shootout losses, Phoenix finished this one off behind goalie Mike Smith, who made 11 of his 32 saves in the final period.
Now, with a week off, the Coyotes can heal up and try to figure out a way to keep their up-and-down season headed back on an upswing.
“Everybody needs a break,” coach Dave Tippett said. “These past two months have been as grueling as I’ve seen and I’ve been a long time in the NHL. You could tell our players were worn out mentally and physically. I thought both teams were looking like they needed a break tonight.”
The Senators certainly could use one as they head home to host the all-star game.
Ottawa had been on a roll, earning at least a point in a club-record 11 straight road games before losing to Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Playing with a short turnaround after losing 4-1 to the Kings, the Senators twice answered Phoenix goals with one of their own, though they were never able to climb all the way back.
Daniel Alfredsson scored his 17th goal in the second period and Neil trimmed a two-goal lead to one with his quick-answer goal in the third. The Senators thought they had the game tied not long after that, but a goal by Alfredsson was waved off.
Ottawa couldn’t get anything past Smith after that despite numerous good chances and the Senators go into the all-star break on a three-game losing streak.
“We’re not doing enough,” coach Paul MacLean said. “We have to play a little bit harder, a little bit smarter and a little bit better, and have the puck more than we had on this trip.”
While Ottawa came into the game looking to get back on track before hosting the all-star game, forward Kyle Turris was hoping for a little payback against his former team.
The third overall pick of the 2007 NHL draft went through contentious negotiations with the Coyotes that lasted into the season before finally signing a two-year, $2.6 million deal on Nov. 22. Turris had no points in six games after signing the contract and was dealt to Ottawa on Dec. 17 for young defenceman David Rundblad.
Phoenix fans — the few thousand who showed up — greeted Turris with boos every time he touched the puck and Adrian Aucoin, back after missing four games with a lower-body injury, dropped his former teammate to the ice with a shoulder on his opening shift, setting off a small scrum.
Turris had one good scoring chance stuffed by Smith in the second period for his only shot on goal.
“It definitely wasn’t the game we wanted to play tonight,” Turris said. “We had some chances but I didn’t capitalize on the one that Alfie gave me there. It just wasn’t our game.”
The Coyotes had a lot more to worry about than their former teammate, though.
Going through a difficult stretch in the schedule and a string of injuries, Phoenix had lost six of seven, including two straight to open a six-game homestand that spans the all-star break.
The Coyotes tried to push the pace early against the tired Senators, creating some good chances, and Ottawa fought back with some good ones of its own later in the period.
Phoenix ended the first with the lead, thanks to Brule’s third goal of the season, a one-timer near the left post after Mikkel Boedker held the puck at the right post and circled in front.
The second period was a lot like the first: Phoenix pressured early, Ottawa responded, Coyotes get a goal late. Doan scored it, gathering in a rebound of Lauri Korpikoski’s shot with his skate before punching it in at the left post for his 15th of the season.
This time, Ottawa had an answer, scoring 91 seconds later on Alfredsson’s one-timer on a nice feed from behind the net by Nick Foligno.
Seemingly in trouble after Neil answered Vrbata’s team-leading 23rd goal of the season in the third, the Coyotes dug down to pull out a much-needed win, making the next week a bit more enjoyable.
“We talked about it before the game — this is kind of a must-win game for us,” said Smith, who allowed four goals on 21 shots in his previous start. “It was just one of those games where to keep in the hunt we had to win this one, so it was a great team effort from everyone tonight.”
Notes: Phoenix C Daymond Langkow returned after missing the previous game with an upper-body injury. … Ottawa killed off three penalties and has allowed one goal in 29 power-play chances over nine games. … Korpikoski played his 200th NHL game.