‘Yotes Notes: Ekman-Larsson Returns to Lineup, Reaches 50-Point Milestone
/ Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE – Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson returned to the lineup after a six-game absence and reached the 50-point milestone for the first time in his NHL career as Arizona beat Edmonton, 4-2, at Gila River Arena on Tuesday night.
Ekman-Larsson, playing his first game since suffering an upper-body injury 15 days ago, assisted on Alex Tanguay’s first-period goal for his 31st helper of the season. He also has 19 goals.
Ekman-Larsson logged 20:50 in his first game back and was plus-3.
“It was fun to play a game again,” Ekman-Larsson said. “…I felt pretty good. It was nice to get two weeks off and get my legs back, but it’s hard to not play and just watch your teammates battle. I told myself before the game just be patient with the puck and make easy, simple plays. I thought I did a pretty good job of that.”
Teammates were thrilled to have Ekman-Larsson back in the mix.
“You can’t replace that guy,” goalie Mike Smith said. “He’s a special player and obviously when he’s out of the lineup he’s missed. I think the ‘D’ did a good job trying to fill the void but, like I said, you can’t replace his leadership, the minutes that he eats up and the skillset that he has. It’s nice to have him back.”
With 50 points, Ekman-Larsson ranks seventh among NHL defensemen, despite the lengthy absence.
“It was frustrating,” Ekman-Larsson said of the layoff. “I haven’t been in that situation before. I think I missed two games in a row a couple years ago, but other than that I have never been in that situation. It was kind of hard for me… I’m excited to be back.”
Ekman-Larsson collided with Colorado’s Matt Duchene on March 7 and then crashed into the end boards after falling to the ice. He said the injury occurred before he hit the boards.
“It was kind of a nothing play but it was bad enough,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I didn’t expect to be out that long but obviously they wanted to make sure I was ready to come back and strong enough to come back.”
• The Coyotes extended their point streak vs. Edmonton to 23 games (19-0-4). They haven’t lost to the Oilers in regulation since Jan. 25, 2011.
“We always try to play a tight defensive game against those guys,” forward Tobias Rieder said. “They have high-skilled forwards, and as soon as we shut them down and play them in their zone I think we have a good chance to win.”
• Smith, playing on his 34th birthday, stopped 27 of 29 shots to earn his third win in four starts since returning from core muscle surgery in December and up his career record vs. Edmonton to 13-1-1.
“We did a lot of good things,” Smith said. “We find ways to beat that team because we play the right way. We manage the puck pretty well. They're a highly skilled group that can burn you if you let them. We find ways to get it done against them.”
• Tanguay scored Arizona’s first goal off a rebound at 5:38 of the first period. He has notched four goals and four assists in nine games since coming to the Coyotes via a trade with Colorado on Feb. 29.
• Center Martin Hanzal redirected a shot by defenseman Michael Stone past Oilers goalie Cam Talbot during a power play at 12:22 of the second period. The goal was Hanzal’s first since Feb. 18 and the 99th of his NHL career.
• Rieder scored his 13th goal at 17:02 of the second period to match his goal total (13) from his rookie year last season.
• Defenseman Zbynek Michalek played in his 600th game as a member of the Coyotes. He’s just the second player to log 600 games for the team since it moved from Winnipeg to Arizona in 1996. Shane Doan is the other.
Michalek played 18:56, took four shots on goal, blocked three shots and delivered two hits.
• Captain Shane Doan played in his 1,458th career game to take sole possession of 22nd place on the NHL’s all-time games played list.