GLENDALE, Ariz. – A return to the minor leagues after a player's first shot at the NHL can be a deflating experience that results in a lingering negative effect.
But Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said forward Jordan Szwarz took his recent six-game trip to the Portland Pirates with the right mindset. He worked on the areas of his game that required improvement and prepared for a return trip to the NHL. He's getting rewarded for it since coming back to the Coyotes.
Szwarz was part of a fourth line that produced two goals in a 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Szwarz scored his third League goal and required 11 stitches in the second period after Reid Boucher's skate blade cut his chin.
"When guys get their first taste and then they go back to the minors, it's tough. But when they come back they're a different player," Tippett said. "It's all part of the process. You just have to take it the right way."
The Coyotes are looking for more physical play from their forwards and Szwarz has given them that in the past few games. He has been in the lineup while nine-goal scorer Rob Klinkhammer watched the past two wins from the press box.
"He played OK, got some quality minutes … and then he went down, he left the ice with the look of a confident player and when he came back, he brought that confidence with him," Tippett said. "Lots of credit to that [fourth-line] group, they played well for us and it was good to see them rewarded with some goals."
Szwarz said it's the first time he's had a cut like that in his career and the rest of the night made the injury easier to deal with.
"It was great to get that early goal for the team. As for the stitches, it was unfortunate but that's part of the game and being a hockey player," he said. "We did a good job of playing with the lead. We had the good start and we had guys laying out at the end to protect the lead."
Center Martin Hanzal, whose 14th goal proved to be the game-winner against the Devils, was held out of the skate Monday and is a game-time decision. Hanzal did the same thing Saturday. Goalie Mike Smith is looking to string together three straight wins for the first time since winning six in a row from Oct. 19-Nov. 5.
Toronto, looking for a fifth straight win, did not hold a morning skate Monday.
Here are the projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Coyotes: