GLENDALE, Ariz. – After losing four of their first five games to open the season and groping for any sign of consistency, the Phoenix Coyotes have found their patented comfort zone. And the points are starting to pile up.
Keith Yandle and Mikkel Boedker scored first-minute goals in the first and third period and Mike Smith made them stand up with 30 saves and his third shutout in his last eight starts as the Coyotes' system play smothered the Calgary Flames 4-0 on Monday at Jobing.com Arena.
The Coyotes have now won four of the last five and six of the last eight overall while continuing their dominance of the Flames. Phoenix has won nine of the last 12 meetings with Calgary and did it with a tried and true formula – get that first goal and turn down the screws.
"It took a bit of time for us to get going, a bit of rust needed to be knocked off, but since then we're playing solid hockey and the kind of hockey we need to play to win consistently," Boedker said. "We're on our way up the standings and we know what we have to do to keep going, We had a good handle on the game and I think we wore them down a little in the third.
Antoine Vermette followed Boedker's goal with his fourth – and first in 10 games – midway through the third before Raffi Torres added his second to cap the win for Phoenix. Vermette, Torres, ex-Flame David Moss and Oliver Ekman-Larsson each had two-point nights against young Calgary goalie Danny Taylor, making his first National Hockey League start and first appearance in the League nearly five years.
Phoenix is now 5-1 when scoring first this season and an incredible 105-13-5 since coach Dave Tippett arrived for the 2009-10 season. The Coyotes needed the win – they sit idle for the next four days while the rest of the West battles for 33 possible points in 11 games before they face the Oilers in Edmonton on Saturday.
"We talked about how valuable these points were and how you'd hate to sit around and watch all those teams play this week if we didn't take care of things," Tippett said. "We were solid in a lot of areas, but we've got to continue to play faster. We've taken some of the turnovers out, but we've got to find a way to keep the speed up."
The Flames rallied from 3-1 down in Dallas to win 4-3 on Sunday, but they ran out of gas in the final 20 minutes this time in the back-to-back situation.
"It's wasn't a team effort. We had some guys who took the option on this game and just didn't show up," Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. "Tonight there is no message. The game is over. I told them exactly what I told you: When you don't have 20 players showing up on a back-to-back, it's impossible to win in this league."
An overflow crowd of 17,208 in the desert included plenty of red-clad Alberta fans, but Smith kept them quiet all night and moved into a tie with Nashville's Pekka Renne for the NHL shutout lead with three. Four of Phoenix's eight wins this year have come via the shutout, with Chad Johnson notching one for the Coyotes as well.
"I thought this was our best game of the year from start to finish," Smith said. "Forwards did a great job, defense was active and blocking shots as usual and up in the rush. We were really solid."
Smith now has 22 career shutouts, and half of them have come in 79 games over two seasons as a Coyote. "I like it here," he said, laughing. "I got my first shutout here too (as a Dallas Star over the Coyotes). No shutout is easy … but the team deserved to not allow a goal tonight. We didn't allow much and when we did we were right there to clear rebounds and let me see pucks."
Taylor, whose previous NHL experience was limited to a 20-minute relief stint for the Los Angeles Kings in March of 2008, got off to an inauspicious start. Phoenix's starting line of Torres, Moss and Boyd Gordon pinned the puck in the Calgary zone and Taylor left a rebound of a Moss shot waiting for Yandle to charge up the slot and bury just 41 seconds into play. After collecting only six points in the first 14 games, Yandle now has a goal and three assists in the last two.
Taylor settled down from there for the next 40 minutes and gave his team a chance, finishing with 33 saves.
"I feel like I can play this game at the NHL level, it's just a matter of being focused for 60 minutes," Taylor said. "If I'm not in the moment for that long, it doesn't matter how good you are you're not going to play. There were a couple of goals I'd like to have back. I just have to put it all together."
Smith and Taylor know each other well through family connections and he was happy to see him get a chance to start in the NHL. "I thought he played well down there but we were kind of all over him right from the start," Smith said.
Ex-Coyote Lee Stempniak had a strong game for Calgary, hitting the post in the first period and testing Smith three times in the second. But Smith made stick, pad and glove saves to keep the Flames off the board.
The Coyotes doubled their lead with another quick goal to open the third. Ekman-Larsson's shot from the point missed the net, but it popped off the end boards right to Boedker even with the goal line. Boedker shoveled a shot to the net and banked it off the inside of Taylor's leg for his third goal at the 30-second mark.