GLENDALE, Ariz. --– The Phoenix Coyotes have instituted their own version of the tattered team jacket that became a symbol of the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup championship run last season.
But instead of giving their player of the game a ratty old jacket, the Coyotes bestow a sparkling 20-pound metal-and-leather replica of a wrestling championship belt -- complete with spinning, compass-like circles and its own, knapsack-like carrying case -- upon the player who contributes the most to each victory.
On Thursday night, there was no doubt which Coyote would have the hulking belt slung over his shoulder, gladiator-style, in the dressing room after the 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils. Reunited with old linemates Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata for the first time this season, Ray Whitney snapped a 2-2 tie in the second period with a goal and added another goal and an assist in the third period as the Coyotes snapped a three-game home losing streak and flushed away the bad feelings of a painful loss 3-2 shootout loss to Dallas on Tuesday.
"Sometimes you need to shake things up a little bit, and the experiment worked for this game," said Whitney, who had three goals in eight games playing with Daymond Langkow and Vrbata before reuniting with Hanzal and Vrbata. "The Europeans play a little bit different style, more of a puck-control way of thinking, and being smaller I like that kind of style as well.
"We'll probably stay together until things go sideways again. That's the way it is with every team. But if I wind up playing with these guys for a while, I won't complain."
Patrick O'Sullivan and Raffi Torres also scored for the Coyotes, who continued their home mastery over the Devils. They've won 24 of 34 home games in franchise history (24-7-3) against the Devils, their best home winning percentage against any Eastern Conference team they have faced at least 15 times.
Phoenix goalie Mike Smith overcame a first-period miscue to make 31 saves -- including several big stops with the game close in the second period.
Zach Parise, Mark Fayne and Nick Palmieri scored for the Devils, who played without goalie Martin Brodeur for the fifth straight game. New Jersey, which was outshot 42-34, hasn't won in Phoenix since Feb. 12, 2003, and is 3-7-0 all-time in the desert.
"We were chasing from behind the whole game," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said. "They came at us in the first period and dictated the play. We had a little bit of a pushback, but for the most part we're chasing the whole night. That's a fast team over there and we didn't slow them down enough tonight."
Defenseman Keith Yandle, who assisted on Whitney's first goal and the one by Torres that put Phoenix up for good in the final minute of the second period, is a hard-core wrestling fanatic and bought the belt on line this summer with the idea of giving his teammates another goal to shoot for. The player who wins the belt displays it in his locker and carries it in his equipment on the road until it is passed on after the next win.
"I love watching (wrestling), even though my wife hates me watching it," Yandle said. "We used to give out a puck, but that was kind of ordinary. I wanted to come up with something different this year, something that people would really battle for and want. It's pretty cool, and when you get it's a big honor in the room."
The Coyotes, who have points in all six games in which they had scored first this season (4-0-2), had the Devils up against the ropes all night. They had 19 of their 42 shots in the first period and each of the new lines formed by coach Dave Tippett was aggressive and dictated the play.
O'Sullivan scored his first goal as a Coyote at 6:18 when he attempted to corral a Langkow rebound as he was hit from behind by Devils defenseman Brad Mills. O'Sullivan stumbled forward and kicked the puck into the net for what was called a goal on the ice -- the goal was allowed to stand by video review because the puck deflected off Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador's stick after O'Sullivan kicked it.
The Devils responded with their best stretch of the night. They got even at 14:15 when Smith beat everyone to a dump-in behind the net but had his pocket picked by Parise – who raced around the front and stuffed home his fourth goal of the season. Then after killing a penalty to being the second period, Mattias Tedenby set up Fayne for a shot from the right point that weaved through several bodies and found its way by Smith.
"In the second period we jumped on them a little, but we have to continue that for a whole game." New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene said. "That wasn't our best effort, obviously."
The Coyotes pulled a reversal from there, scoring four straight goals to put the game in a sleeper hold -- with Whitney doing most of the damage.
With Ilya Kovalchuk in the penalty box, Whitney cleaned up a Vrbata rebound and had plenty of time to pick a corner at 11:24. It was the 99th power-play goal of Whitney's career, and it turned the momentum of the game.
Torres gave Phoenix the lead for good with 48.8 seconds left in the period, pouncing on a Yandle rebound and punching it home for his second goal in two games after going scoreless for the first seven.
The third period belonged to Phoenix. Whitney set up Hanzal for a goal at 12:16 and Hanzal returned the favor on a 2-on-1 following a New Jersey turnover at 14:26 to put the Coyotes in firm control. Palmieri scored in the final seconds off a faceoff.
"Hanzal's line gave us some big goals, but I thought everybody competed hard and had a hand in the win," Tippett said. "We had 19 shots in the first period and the mindset was to get the puck on net hard and go to the net hard. That's how we got the first goal and that was the effort we wanted."
1 - 0 PHX
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NJD
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 PHX
4 - 2 PHX
5 - 2 PHX
5 - 3 PHX
Too many men/ice - bench