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Defensemen lead Coyotes comeback against Oilers

by Jerry Brown /

GLENDALE, Ariz. - The Phoenix Coyotes have scored 40 goals, won seven games, earned 16 points and are off to their best 12-game start in a decade. What they don't have is a very happy coach - or anything that resembles the system play Dave Tippett believes to be essential for his team to be anything more than fan-friendly.

The Ice Capades continued Saturday as the Coyotes won another track meet at Arena. Phoenix rallied from two deficits and blew yet another two-goal lead before Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored power-play goals 1:43 apart in the third period for a wild 5-4 victory against the struggling Edmonton Oilers.

The Coyotes improved to 4-0-1 at home and 7-3-2 on the season despite blowing a 3-1 second-period lead and trailing 4-3 midway through the third period after a three-goal Edmonton flurry. Phoenix has allowed 39 goals - four or more in a game five times. Watching the Coyotes has been fun for the fans, but not so much for Tippett.

"I like scoring goals, don't get me wrong. I like some of the plays we're making on that end," Tippett said after several postgame comments dripping with sarcasm. "I just don't like us giving up four and five a night. You're not going to win in this league doing that. You'll be a fun team, that's about it.

"If you're going to go out there and be loosey-goosey and give away chances and goals left and right, it might be good entertainment but it won't be winning hockey."

Phoenix is getting away with it so far. Ekman-Larsson had a goal and two assists while Radim Vrbata added chipped in with assists for the Coyotes, who are 12-1-2 in their last 15 meetings against Edmonton and have points in eight of the last nine games (6-1-2).

Edmonton was 0-for-2 on its power play, which has now failed 21 straight times in the past seven games. But when the Oilers took three penalties in the final 10:10 of the third period, the penalty kill failed them twice.

At 3-8-1, the Western Conference basement dwellers have lost seven of the last nine and head to Los Angeles for a tough back-to-back against the Kings on Sunday.

Martin Hanzal, Michael Stone and David Schlemko scored goals in the first 5:47 of the second period to wipe out a 1-0 Edmonton lead. Goals by Will Acton and David Perron pulled the Oilers even after 40 minutes, and when Ryan Jones deflected home a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shot at 7:23 of the third period, Edmonton had a 4-3 lead.

"Once again, we played a pretty solid game for the most part," said Nugent-Hopkins, who had a pair of assists. "Obviously, you can't take three penalties in the last 10 minutes."

Captain Andrew Ference started Edmonton's parade to the box, hooking down Rob Klinkhammer. Yandle used a screen to put a hard wrist shot past former teammate Jason LaBarbera and into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season at 10:40 to tie the game for the third time.

Edmonton's Mark Arcobello caught Klinkhammer in the face with a high stick 41 seconds later to give the Coyotes another power play. Yandle make a sprawling, goalie-style stop with his gloves to ruin an Edmonton clearing attempt before Ekman-Larsson's shot from the point trickled through LaBarbera's pad to give Phoenix the lead for good.

"I went back to my Little League days on that one," Yandle said. "I used to play a mean shortstop back then. The defense scored four goals today. If you look at our back end, every guy can jump up and make plays and I thought we did that today."

Mike Smith made 24 saves in his battle with LaBarbera (23 saves), who left Phoenix for Edmonton as a free agent during the summer. But neither goalie was sharp in a rare Arizona afternoon matinee, and the Oilers didn't give LaBarbera much help - two of Phoenix's first three goals were deflected into the net by Edmonton players.

"I know what our players were thinking there, they are trying to get their sticks on the puck," Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said. "But we don't want that. You block shots with your body, not your stick."

Tyler Pitlick gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead 9:59 into play when he regained control of his own fanned shot and reloaded one that found its way between Smith's pads. The unassisted goal was the first in the NHL for the 21-year-old Pitlick, who left soon afterward when he was clipped by a Schlemko hip check.

Outscored 14-5 in the first period this season -- and 5-0 in the past two games - Phoenix regrouped quickly with a flurry of three goals in a five-minute span early in the second. It started with Hanzal, who is in the midst of the best offensive surge in his career.

Just 47 seconds into the period, Ekman-Larsson took a crisp pass from Shane Doan and found Hanzal steaming up the slot. The pass deflected off Hanzal's skate and by LaBarbera to give Hanzal his fifth goal and third in the last two games. Hanzal has at least one point in nine of Phoenix's first 12 games.

"He's gone to the net and screen in front of the net as well as I've ever seen him do," Tippett said. "He's had a good start to the year and he's an important player for us."

Stone, in for the injured Rostislav Klesla, put a shot through traffic that hit Ference before beating LaBarbera at 5:20. Schelmko's 55-footer from the point was deflected into the net by Arcobello 27 seconds later, leaving LaBarbera flat-footed and obviously frustrated.

Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins pulled LaBarbera for Devan Dubnyk, but sent his starter back out after a 39-second break and the Oilers regrouped in front of him to get back even before the end of the period.

At 8:03, Acton won a battle for a Ben Eager rebound and stuffed it past Smith for his second goal. Then Perron, who was robbed by Smith in close and hit the crossbar earlier in the period, was on the receiving end of great passes from Justin Schultz and Nugent-Hopkins for an easy put away at 19:42 to make it a 3-3 game.

"The first two goals were no good goal for [Smith] to give up," Tippett said. "The third one would be tactically glaring … the kind of thing we'll be looking at [in practice] Monday."

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