Johan Larsson was due.
The Arizona Coyotes’ 6-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday featured a little bit of everything. The Coyotes scored multiple power-play goals, got some very timely (and impressive) saves from goalie Karel Vejmelka, and withstood a furious Blackhawks rally en route to their seventh win of the season, all while getting contributions from everyone up and down the roster. None bigger than Larsson, though, who had gone scoreless through 19 games this season.
Larsson recorded his first-career hat trick, helping elevate the Coyotes to a win over their Central Division rival, and suddenly the Coyotes have won two of their last four games. Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s win.
Larsson Impresses While Travis Boyd Steps Up
Larsson finished the night with three points, as did forward Travis Boyd, who contributed one goal and two assists in 15:57 of ice time. Boyd continues to improve upon his career-year, upping his point total for the season to 16, which is the most productive he’s been since the 2018-19 season when he recorded 20 points with the Washington Capitals. His eight goals on the year are also a career best.
Larsson, meanwhile, notched his first goal of the season with just 54 seconds left in the first period, a critical goal that gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Considering Chicago’s Kirby Dach scored just one minute into the second, the late-period tally was especially helpful for a team that hasn’t played with the lead much this season.
“He’s a guy who’s easy to trust because he cares a lot,” said head coach André Tourigny. “He does the things right every day, and he has a lot of character. He’s a guy who’s not going to back down, he has a lot of push back.”
The 29-year-old Swede scored two in the third, including one on the power play, and cemented the win after potting an empty netter with 29 seconds to play.
““It is crazy,” Larsson said. “You go a lot of games without [a goal], and then you have one go in and feel better. It hits your stick and goes in, it feels good.”
Though Boyd and Larsson led in scoring, the entire Coyotes’ roster contributed in the box score. The team had five players record two-or-more points in the game, and rookie defenseman Janis Moser played especially well in just his fifth-career NHL game, earning an assist on Larsson’s first goal. The 21-year-old defenseman now has three points on the season, and has stepped up in Jakob Chychrun’s absence.
“It doesn’t surprise us, because he has a high IQ,” Tourigny said. “He’s willing to pay the price to make a play, he’s willing to take the hit, he’s willing to work. He goes to get the puck, he has a lot of speed on his puck recovery, he makes good plays with the puck, and he has a good feel for offense.”
Moser was drafted 60th overall by the Coyotes in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
The Power Play Was Good, But Penalties Continue to Haunt
The Coyotes took advantage of their opportunities with the man advantage, going 2-for-5 on the power play. The turning point of the game, though, came early in the third period, after forward Clayton Keller scored his 11th goal of the season. Interim Blackhawks coach Derek King unsuccessfully challenged for goalie interference after claiming forward Andrew Ladd impeded Chicago goalie Marc-André Fleury, resulting in a two-minute delay of game penalty.
50 seconds later, Larsson had tallied his second goal of the night, and the Coyotes suddenly found themselves up 5-2 after scoring twice in under a minute.
That lead was far from safe, however, as the Coyotes yet again had difficulty staying out of the penalty box. Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews pulled Chicago to within two, and then Arizona took back-to-back penalties shortly thereafter; first, a tripping call on Larsson, and then a delay of game on Anton Stralman immediately after the team had just killed off Larsson’s infraction.
The Coyotes weren’t able to kill off that second penalty, and Alex DeBrincat’s 21st goal of the season pulled Chicago to within one with still over six minutes to play. From there, Arizona was able to lock it down, withstand the Blackhawks’ rally, and Larsson’s empty netter secured the win, even if the final frame was a bit more interesting than it needed to be.
“You’ve got to be calm, there’s no point in yelling, or saying a bunch of crap that’s not going to help,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who had two assists on Thursday, said. “You need to go out there, play the right way, you know they’re going to come with a push, they’re going to take more chances, but trust the system, be defensive, sit in, and it worked.”
Vejmelka Stands Tall Yet Again
Vejmelka had a few rough outings to close out 2021, but it sure seems like that’s all in the rearview mirror. Sure, allowing four goals on 36 shots isn’t the best box score for a goalie (.889 save percentage), but it was the caliber of the netminder’s saves, not to mention the timing, that helped Arizona top the Blackhawks.
“It’s great,” Larsson said. “He’s been really good all year, he comes up really big in the big moments like power plays and PKs, so it was good. He’s been a really good horse for us back there.”
Vejmelka did what he’s done all season, and finally got a little goal support along the way. The 25-year-old Czech, who is playing North American hockey for the first time in his career, had a particularly impressive performance in the first period, and almost single-handedly helped kill an early penalty to preserve the Coyotes’ lead at the time.
It’s more of the same from ‘Veggie,’ whose performance this season is has been nothing short of impressive.
Nashville Predators’ Stellar Power Play Awaits
The Nashville Predators are up next for the Coyotes, as the two will face-off at Gila River Arena on Saturday at 6 pm local time. Arizona cannot afford to take nearly as many penalties against the Central Division-leading Preds, who currently own the league’s sixth-best power play. Their penalty kill is almost equally impressive, ranking 10th in the league at 82.30 percent, so Saturday’s game is going to be a true test for the Coyotes’ special teams.
The Predators won the first meeting between the two teams, 4-1 on Nov. 13, and a tough test awaits the Coyotes when the puck drops on Saturday.
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.