GLENDALE – Defenseman Chris Summers had to pause during his post-game interview with reporters on Saturday night to remove the pro wrestling-like Game MVP Belt his teammates awarded him from his left shoulder.
"This thing is heavy," Summers said as he gently placed the traditional badge of honor on the bench in his stall.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
Summers has waited a long time to make a pronounced impact in a game for the Coyotes and on Saturday he did just that by scoring his first NHL goal and by playing a key role defensively as the Coyotes protected a one-goal lead in the game’s waning moments vs. Calgary.
With Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the penalty box for the final moments, the Flames pulled their goalie for one final offensive charge. But Summers, who blocked three shots in the game, and his fellow penalty-killers protected the lead and Phoenix won 3-2.
“It’s a great feeling to be put in those situations,” Summers said. “I think it helps me get a little bit of confidence in my game knowing the coaches can trust me to put me out there… I've been here for a little bit. It's time to start playing some real hockey.”
The Coyotes selected Summers in the first round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft with the 29th overall pick. He has played 34 games for the team over the past four seasons, including five in a row this season during his most recent recall from the American Hockey League. After being minus-3, minus-4 and minus-3 in his first three NHL seasons, Summers is plus-2 so far this season.
“I’m just kind of bearing down and playing the style the coaches see me playing,” he said.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
Summers has played with greater confidence this time around and the coaches have noticed. They’ve also noticed the way the 26-year-old Michigan native has handled himself over the years during his attempt to stick in the NHL.
"Great attitude," Head Coach Dave Tippett said when asked to describe Summers’ approach to his career. "He's a good player and a reliable player, but he's a very good person. It makes you want to keep him in the organization... He's come a long way. He's a mature guy. It's great to see. You like to see guys like that succeed because they put a lot of work in, and when they get here, it's good to see.""
Regarding his first NHL goal, which he scored at 4:35 of the first period off a nice pass from forward Lauri Korpikoski, Summers said:
"The momentum of the play pushed me in (the offensive zone) and the defense separated. (Dave) Moss made a great play across to Korpikoski, and I couldn't have asked for a better play to make."
He added, "It’s just a great moment… Every player dreams of playing in the NHL and every player dreams of scoring a goal in the NHL. I’m not one to score many goals, but I’m glad it came when it did.”
Starting Monday at Los Angeles, the Coyotes will play nine of their last 14 regular-season games against teams currently in playoff position.
Goalie Mike Smith said every game is critical, regardless of opponent.
“We can't just tiptoe around games and expect to win – even against teams that aren't in the playoff hunt,” Smith said. “We need to keep pushing games along and make the right plays and wear your heart on your sleeve."
Smith is 10-4-1 with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in 16 career games against LA. Those 10 wins are the most Smith has notched against any NHL team.
• Coyotes captain Shane Doan scored the 350th goal of his NHL career during a power play in the third period and it turned out to be game-winning goal. He is now one goal shy of notching his 12th 20-goal season in the NHL
Of his 19 goals this season, Doan has scored 10 on power plays – a team-high.
• Keith Yandle chipped in two more assists in Saturday’s win to reach 40 for the season. With 14 games to go, Yandle needs nine more helpers to set a career-high for assists in one season.
|Photo by Getty Images. |
• Forwards Rob Klinkhammer and Brandon McMillan each played in their 100th NHL game on Saturday.
Klinkhammer marked the occasion by scoring the 15th - and likely the easiest - goal of his NHL career thanks to a misplay by Flames goalie Joni Ortio that left the puck loose and the Flames net unattended.
• Center Martin Hanzal has missed seven games in a row because of a lower-body injury. Tippett said he Hanzal might play Monday at Los Angeles. Meanwhile, forward Martin Erat has missed two consecutive games because of an upper-body injury. Tippett said Erat would not play on Monday. Neither will defenseman David Schlemko (lower-body injury).
• Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter attended Saturday’s game and during a break in the action sang the chorus to the 1980’s anthem “Fight for Your Right” by Beastie Boys as part of a karaoke-esque fan segment of the game presentation.