GLENDALE Ariz. – At the beginning of the week, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata were out of the lineup with illness and injury and the slumping Lauri Korpikoski had managed only three points in his first 15 games.
But whether it was sickness or slumps, Saturday proved to be a cure-all for every malady that line endured.
The trio combined for 10 points and each player tied a career high in at least one offensive category during the 6-3 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Coyotes scored three times in the first 21:48 and became the first Western Conference team to beat Tampa Bay this season, staying unbeaten in regulation at Jobing.com Arena (9-0-1) in the process.
Hanzal tied career highs with three assists and four points and added his sixth goal of the season. Vrbata tied his career high with three helpers and Korpikoski added a goal and two assists to tie a career-best with three points.
"I'm just trying to be in the right place and making a special effort to be in front of the net to make it hard on the goalie," said Hanzal, who was on the ice for all six Phoenix goals and now leads the team with 18 points. "Sometimes you just have one of those nights when you are in the right spot. It's so hard to score in this League. A night like this is really special."
Mike Stone, Hanzal and Mike Ribeiro gave Phoenix a 3-0 lead against a team that had won seven of their past eight games, but is now adjusting to life without injured forward Steven Stamkos. Connor Murphy added his first NHL goal in his first game and captain Shane Doan scored his team-leading 10th goal and ninth in the past 11 games.
"I think I broke my hand punching the ice, I was so excited," said the 20-year-old Murphy, who had five assists but no goals in 10 games with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League in his first professional season.
Collecting five of six points against the likes of the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay over the past five days, Phoenix moved within a point of the idle Anaheim Ducks for the best record in the NHL.
Richard Panik scored his first goal of the season and J.T. Brown scored his first NHL goal for the Lightning, who beat the Ducks 5-1 on Thursday and had been a perfect 7-0-0 against the Western Conference. But Saturday, Tampa Bay found itself in a rare deep hole early.
Former Lightning goalie Mike Smith made 27 saves and posted his 12th win. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop allowed the first three goals on 14 shots before being pulled.
"It's tough. You go down 3-0 and now you're climbing the mountain," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "(Smith) made the save he had to and every time we thought we were seizing a little bit of momentum we'd give one up."
The Lightning had allowed only six first-period goals all season before Stone and Hanzal scored 57 seconds apart to get Phoenix off and running.
"We're going to have stinkers and tonight was one of them." Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis said. "We have to address it and turn the page and really focus on the next one."
With two regular defensemen injured (Derek Morris and Zbynek Michalek) and another a healthy scratch (Rostislav Klesla), Phoenix played defensemen aged 24 or younger on Saturday. The goals by Stone and Murphy give Phoenix's blue line a NHL-best 18 goals in the first 21 games, helping the Coyotes to a 14-4-3 start, their best since 1998-99.
With Tampa Bay's Andrej Sustr in the box for tripping, Ribeiro slid a pass cross-ice pass to Stone at the point and he used an effective screen by Hanzal to beat Bishop at 15:58 for his third goal in the past two games.
Then at 16:55, Hanzal bulled his way through two defenders on the forecheck and gained the puck behind the net. As defenseman Radko Gudas took him to the ice, Hanzal flipped the puck toward the net, where it banked off the leg of Bishop and in for Hanzal's sixth goal.
Tampa Bay ended a frustrating first period with Alex Killorn taking a slashing penalty and went two men down when B.J. Crombeen tripped Keith Yandle on the power play 59 seconds into the second. After Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson hit the post with one shot, Ribiero cleaned up a Vrbata shot and the Coyotes had a 3-0 lead.
Bishop was hit in the face by a shot during the sequence and was replaced by Anders Lindback after the goal.
"It takes a second to get your bearings," Bishop said. "You would have liked a whistle there, but I guess not. It doesn't feel good getting hit with a 90-mile-an-hour slap shot in the face."
The period ended with a flurry of three goals in a span of 1:36, including a pair of unforgettable moments for rookies on each side.
Tampa Bay got on the board when Tyler Johnson set up Panik with a pretty feed across the crease just after a Phoenix penalty expired. Panik put the puck over Smith's glove at 16:19, but 46 seconds later, Vrbata set up Murphy for a shot from the high point and Hanzal was parked in the crease and beat Lindback to make it 4-1.
That lead lasted 50 seconds before Brown beat Smith off a Teddy Purcell feed for his first goal in his eighth NHL game to keep Tampa Bay within striking distance.
But Doan gave the Coyotes another three-goal cushion when he finished off a nice forecheck and feed from Vrbata. After going without a point in the first five games of the season, Doan now had 10 goals and 16 points in the past 15 games.