-- Like all goal scorers on a hot streak, Radim Vrbata
tried to deke the postgame media analysis of his current lamp-lighting spree – treating the pack like an enemy goaltender on a breakaway. But trapped in the tight quarters of the Phoenix Coyotes
dressing room, Vrbata was quickly surrounded.
Five goals in the last three games. Ten goals in the last 11. What's the secret? What's different? How do you feel?
"You keep asking me these questions but I don't want to think about it too much. Please," Vrbata politely pleaded after collecting his fourth two-goal game in a month and third game-winner in a 4-2 Coyotes win over Anaheim.
"You come to the game with the same mindset every game and play your game. Sometimes it goes in and sometimes is doesn't. When it does, you try to keep it going as long as you can. Hopefully it will continue for a couple of more games."
His Coyotes teammates are all for that. Since Ray Whitney
moved back to the left wing and joined center Marty Hanzal on his line on Oct. 27, Vrbata has 10 goals and 15 points in 12 games – after collecting just one goal and three points in his first eight. He gave the Coyotes the lead for good at 13:13 of the first period – snapping a 1-for-24 Phoenix drought on the power play – and added another late in the second period for what proved to be the game-winner.
"It's a game of confidence and Vrby has it right now," said Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle
, who scored the first Phoenix goal and added an assist on Vrbata's first goal. "When you're feeling good, you're feeling good. And he's so talented in the offensive zone that when he's playing with confidence, it's dangerous."
had a goal and an assist while Shane Doan
added two assists for the Coyotes, who have beaten Anaheim four straight times dating back to last season.
A game matching teams going in opposite directions did little to change either course. The Coyotes are 9-3-2 in their last 14 games and battling for the Pacific Division lead, while the Ducks have now lost five in a row and are in the midst of a 2-10-4 free-fall.
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Vrbata a viable option?
Eric Lipschutz - NHL.com Staff Writer
Fantasy owners would love to know if Radim Vrbata
's scorching stretch is just a hot streak or the sign of bigger things to come. READ FULL STORY ›
scored the first goal of the game at 5:44, and Corey Perry
scored the last with 2:29 left. In between, the Ducks were dominated in every phase of the game and showed their frustrations openly when both captain Ryan Getzlaf
and assistant Teemu Selanne
were sent off for arguing with the officials.
"It seems like we're scared of winning," said Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa
. "It's like we forgot how to win. We have stretches where we play good hockey against teams we're supposed to beat with players in this room. As soon as we get a bad bounce or something and we fall behind, we kind of get scared and we stray away from the gameplan."
Phoenix goalie Mike Smith
, who had an outstanding road trip in which he won three of four starts and stopped 149 of 155 shots (.961), overcame an early hiccup to move to 5-0-1 in his career against Anaheim. He made a big glove-side save on a shorthanded breakaway by reigning Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry
in the second period with the game still in doubt.
Koivu gave Anaheim an early lead, but the Ducks have been outscored 18-10 during their five-game skid and were outplayed all night.
Phoenix missed a chance to get even when Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller
made fabulous, bang-bang saves on Shane Doan
and Rostislav Klesla
, but the Coyotes began cashing in a few minutes later. Right after Smith stopped Brandon McMillan
on a partial breakaway, Yandle completed a pretty tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Whitney and Doan by stepping into a one-time that beat Hiller cleanly at 13:13. It was just the second goal of the season for Yandle and his first in a month – when he scored at Anaheim on Oct. 23.
"That was his best game of the year right there," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said of Yandle. "Nothing fantastic, but he competed hard on every loose puck and made real good, solid plays and he was rewarded with a goal and an assist."
Vrbata took over from there. Hanzal ran down Yandle's rebound and made a pretty cross-crease pass while falling to the ice that Vrbata put behind Hiller at 16:50 to put the Coyotes ahead to stay. Late in the second period, Ekman-Larsson caught Vrbata in stride with a sizzling pass at the Anaheim blue line. Vrbata raced in and dumped a backhander over Hiller for his team-leading 11th goal at 17:31.
"I remember a few years ago when he had like 24 goals in 57 games or something like that and he was just on fire. He has the capabilities of being special," Doan said of Vrbata. "The game just comes to you when you're scoring and he's the first one to give credit to his linemates When he gets the puck he wants to be the guy who shoots it and that's huge.
Phoenix put the game away 4:27 into the third on a play that sums up Anaheim's struggles. Ekman-Larsson's shot from the left point deflected off the skates of two Anaheim players and left Hiller helpless.
"We're just not being aggressive enough, simple enough from my standpoint," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "They've got to skate. We've got people who can skate. We've got people that can get involved."