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Smith, Coyotes blank struggling Canucks

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes got a much-needed big game from their top players Thursday night.

The Vancouver Canucks are still waiting for one.

Struggling goalie Mike Smith stepped up with a 28-save shutout and Antoine Vermette snapped an 11-game drought with the only goal of the game to lead the Coyotes to a 1-0 win at Arena.

Phoenix's first win in five games leaves the Coyotes four points behind Vancouver and the Minnesota Wild in the race for the two Western Conference wild-card spots. Phoenix has two games in hand on Vancouver and three on Minnesota.

Smith was chosen to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics nine days ago, but that's been his only good news of late. Smith had been 0-5-2 in his past seven decisions dating back to Dec. 21, and he was 3-9-5 dating to Nov. 21.

But Smith looked sharp and controlled rebounds well in registering his 25th career shutout and first this season.

"It's easy to get down on yourself and get negative. Things have been building and building and finally it's not even fun anymore," Smith said. "I think I brought a new mindset to the rink to enjoy the game and be more positive, and it's definitely given me more energy and let me feel better about my game.

"January has been a tough month so far, and it's important in the second half to turn the gas. We've been searching for one like this. It was a group effort from first line to fourth line, and all six D were engaged in the game, and it was a fun one. Guys were blocking shots and boxing guys out and letting me see a lot of shots."

Vancouver has lost three straight in regulation -- two 1-0 losses sandwiched around a 9-1 road loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday -- and is 1-5-3 in its past nine games.

A game that featured 20 minor penalties concluded with Vancouver on a four-minute power play when Martin Hanzal was called for a double minor for high sticking Canucks forward David Booth with 4:05 left. But the Canucks managed one shot with a chance to tie the game, finishing 0-for-7 with the man advantage.

The Canucks rang up 162 penalty minutes on their 0-3-0 road trip, which included the loss to the Ducks on Wednesday and a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

"We've got to find a way to score," defenseman Alexander Edler said. "It's getting old."

Vancouver had a golden chance to tie the game early in the second period. With Smith down and out, Daniel Sedin shot a point-blank chance a foot over the wide-open net to continue his offensive struggles.

"It's a team that's having a hell of a time making an offensive play," Vancouver coach John Tortorella said. "Our power play doesn't work again, and it's been tough sledding.

"We're grown men here. It's a big part of our business … to make big plays at key times. We have to get something done. We throw one over an open net. At the end, we can't even get our power play set up? That's unacceptable. Our top guys need to lead the way here. I believe they will, but it has to happen pretty quickly."

The Canucks thought they had tied the game at 8:52 of the third. Smith made a save on Dan Hamhuis' shot, but the puck flipped in the air and bounced off the glove of Vancouver's Henrik Sedin. Referee Dave Jackson immediately waved off the goal, and the call was upheld by video review.

"I heard something that [Henrik] put his hip out there and that's why they called it off," Daniel Sedin said. "We have to find a way to score goals, and it starts with me. I had a great chance on the power play and missed the net. That would have kick-started our team, and you can't miss those chances. We need some points."

The Coyotes have three wins in their past 12 games (3-6-3), but two are shutouts at Arena against Western Canadian teams. Phoenix blanked the Calgary Flames 6-0 at home Jan. 7 but hadn't won since. The one facet of the game that hasn't deserted the Coyotes during their slump -- the power play -- got Phoenix on the board.

With Canucks defenseman Jason Garrison off for hauling down Mikkel Boedker, Keith Yandle was able to hold the puck in the Vancouver zone before setting up Vermette for a shot that banked off Hamhuis and through Eddie Lack's pads at 12:51 of the first period.

Vermette's 13th goal was his first since he had a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 21. In 11 games since then, he had one assist. It also continued his career success against Vancouver: He has seven goals and 18 points in 24 games against the Canucks.

"We will take any win," Vermette said. "But the way that game came up for us -- a 1-0 win with Smitty getting a huge win and battling through adversity -- I think it's a good sign. That's the kind of game we want to play."

The Coyotes played with a full roster for the first time since October, and the return of defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who has played in four games since Nov. 14, was a big factor in a perfect penalty-killing night and a shutout win.

"That's one of his strengths, the PK, so it was a very nice surprise, him saying he wanted to jump in tonight," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "He kept this shifts short (16 minutes total), and he became a very valuable player for us in that end."

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