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Coyotes blank Stars 2-0

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Raffi Torres is back on the ice. Mike Smith is back in synch. And after a slow start, the Phoenix Coyotes are starting to climb out of their early-season malaise.

Smith stopped all 17 shots he saw -- and went 17 minutes without seeing one in the second period -- while Nick Johnson and Mikkel Boedker scored goals and the Coyotes celebrated Torres' return from suspension with a convincing 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars at Arena on Saturday.

The Coyotes are now 2-0-2 in their last four games after a 1-4-0 start and reinforcements continue to join the fold. Smith, who came into the game 0-2-1 with a 4.00 goals-against average and missed a week with a groin injury, recorded his 20th career shutout and his ninth in one-plus seasons with Phoenix.

"It's been frustrating, having a couple of shaky starts and then getting injured, that's not the start to the season I was looking for," Smith said. "Saying that, looking around the League, a lot of good goalies aren't playing up to their capabilities. I am hard on myself, I take pride in that, but it takes a little time to get back into the flow and tonight was a good start."

Richard Bachman made 32 saves in his first start of the season for Dallas, but the Stars' offense continues to struggle away from home. The Stars have scored just four goals in the last six road games dating back to last season and have now been shut out in three times. Part of the problem is penalties – Dallas has had to kill 45 power plays in their first nine games and gave Phoenix seven chances, five in the first 30 minutes.

"Shots were 21-17, five-on-five, but the 14 minutes, 40 seconds [of Phoenix power-play time] takes you out of the game." Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said.

The Coyotes needed this win. It was their first in three tries against Dallas – they lost 4-3 in a shootout in Texas on Friday -- and their first victory in five tries within the Pacific Division (1-3-1).

Playing without leading scorer Ray Whitney, who will miss a month with a broken bone in his foot, Dallas was the more aggressive team early in the first period and Smith had to make big early saves on Brenden Morrow, Trevor Daley and Jamie Benn.

But that was about it for the Stars, who had only nine shots in the first two periods and spent much of that time killing penalty after penalty.

"Our PK is doing a great job, but out top guys are sitting on the bench and they can't get things going offensively," center Vernon Fiddler said. "It happened last year and it's gone on the beginning of this year and it's something we have to figure out right away."

Torres, who was suspended for 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games last spring and the first eight of this season for his hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, made his return to a loud roar on the third shift of the game. He delivered a solid hit on Fiddler midway through the period but had an otherwise uneventful evening, playing 12 minutes and being credited with four shots and two hits.

"I'm just thankful to be back on the ice. I'm in a good spot mentally and physically I feel like I'm in the best shape of my career," Torres said. "There were a lot of nerves and the first couple of shifts I was just skating around; way out of position … I didn't know where I was going. As the game went on, I felt better and it was just hockey.

"So many friends and families have wished me well … I just want to go out there and play hard and work hard. I just hate letting people down. These fans are great, they have supported me through this whole ordeal and it was great to feel welcomed."

The Coyotes had three power plays in the first period and two more in the first five minutes of the second, with frustrating results. Finally at 11:57, on their 20th shot and at even strength, Phoenix broke through.

Smith nudged a puck forward and Lauri Korpikoski found Johnson in stride on the rush. Johnson peeled into the slot and caught Bachman drifting off the post on the short side. The goal was Johnson's third in the last four games, and Phoenix fed off the momentum.

With injuries to Matthew Lombardi, Steve Sullivan and Martin Hanzal early in the season, Johnson was recalled from Portland of the American Hockey League and has four points in five games.

"Nick has been a real pleasant surprise for us," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. "Not just because he's scored some points. He's a sound positional player that does a lot of things right in the game, things that coaches probably notice more than fans."

Meanwhile Dallas had just three shots in the period and went more than 17 minutes without a single one. The Stars have been outshot 112-73 in the second period this season.

They started the third on a sour note, when Michael Ryder was sent to the box and the Coyotes finally chased in.

Bachman was able to stop Derek Morris' blast from the point, but couldn't control the rebound. The puck deflected off Phoenix center Martin Hanzal and dropped at the feet of Boedker, who scored his second goal and seventh point in the first nine games.

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