GLENDALE, Ariz. – Steve Sullivan isn't a point-a-game player – until Columbus shows up on the schedule.
The Blue Jackets came to Arizona at just the right time for Sullivan, a free-agent signing last summer, to endear himself to his new teammates. Sullivan scored three times during a run of five unanswered goals as the Phoenix Coyotes overcame the loss of star goalie Mike Smith with a 5-1 victory, their first after two disappointing losses to start the season.
It was the eighth career hat trick for Sullivan, who now has 19 goals and 48 points in 48 career games against the Blue Jackets. His last hat trick came with Nashville on Dec. 14, 2009 – also against the Blue Jackets.
"Everyone wanted to put in a better effort, especially myself, and we got it," Sullivan said. That's the kind of hockey we need to play to win," said Sullivan, who thrived in a similar system to Phoenix's for 5 1/2 seasons with the Predators. "You're brought in for a certain reason and you don't want to disappoint. If you look at this team as I watched them in the playoffs last year, everyone has a set role and everyone knows what they have to do to be successful. When they do those things well they win games.
"We really wanted this hockey game, and with the shortened season we knew it was big for us."
But why is he so successful against Columbus?
"I don't know what the difference is about that one team," Sullivan said with a laugh. "I don't want to play for them because I need to play against them."
Smith, who allowed 10 goals in the first two games, suffered a minor lower-body injury in warmups and lasted only nine minutes before giving way to backup Jason LaBarbera. LaBarbera made 21 saves, including two big ones on Vinny Prospal and Ryan Johansen in his first minute of action.
It was the first win for LaBarbera, 3-9-3 last season, in 11 in decisions dating back to a victory at Carolina on Dec. 21, 2011.
"You don't have time to think about anything when you have to make a big save right away and then a little rebound. That's why you work on things like that in practice," LaBarbera said. "We were focused and played an unreal game. We cut down on turnovers and kept the puck in their end."
Defenseman Oliver-Ekman Larsson added two goals and a career-high three points for Phoenix, which won without center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Rostislav Klesla. Both sat out with lower-body injuries suffered in Sunday's loss to Chicago and are day-to-day.
"That was an important game for us and we knew it," Ekman-Larsson said. "It was good to see us get back to the things that make us successful."
Defenseman Fedor Tyutin scored his first goal of the season for Columbus (1-1-1) but Phoenix outshot Columbus 42-26, forcing Steve Mason to make 37 saves in his first start of the season.
"We played a decent road game and then it unraveled and it unraveled quickly," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "We've got to do more to create offense. The breakdowns we had are things we covered and things we have executed in our first two games."
LaBarbera was screened by Derek Dorsett on the only goal he allowed as Tyutin let a shot go from the point. It was the first goal of the season for Tyutin and the first time Columbus has scored the opening goal in a game this season.
But the Coyotes needed just 1:57 to respond. Sullivan held the puck in the Columbus zone, chased down an Antoine Vermette pass and shoveled a backhander by Mason at 7:27 for his first goal as a Coyote.
Phoenix took the lead for good less than eight minutes later. Ekman-Larsson trailed the rush, retrieved a pass that caromed off the stick of Matthew Lombardi and whipped a wrist shot past Mason to put the Coyotes ahead at 15:22.
"That was a nice shot. We've seen him score goals like that in (AHL) Portland this year," Tippett said.
Sullivan made it 3-1 on a 5-on-3 power play, putting home a Mikkel Boedker feed from the slot with both Dorsett and Derick Brassard in the box serving tripping penalties. Sullivan closed out his big night at 10:01, deflecting a Derek Morris shot from the slot through Mason's legs to send hats flying.
Ekman-Larsson added his second of the night with 4:58 to play.