Sarah McLellan, azcentral sports
Pitting speed and skill against the opposition’s top line worked in the Coyotes’ favor Thursday when wingers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, alongside center Martin Hanzal, thrived in a head-to-head matchup with the Stars’ elite scorers Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
The assignment was the first the two rookies received against a No. 1 trio for a lengthy period of time in a game, and although they succeeded with the line combining for three goals and nine points in a 6-3 win, the Coyotes aren’t necessarily ready to permanently pair Domi and Duclair against other teams’ best players.
“We were in a situation the other night where it felt like it was time to give them a new opportunity, so we did that,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Whether that continues or whether we have other people step up and do that, that just all comes game-by-game.”
Domi and Duclair usually see the opponent’s second or third line as they work to become sound all over the ice, especially in their own zone. Although it might make sense to shelter young players as they ease into the NHL, getting them off the ice when top talent hops over the boards for the other team, the challenge could end up actually helping their defensive awareness since they know the opposition could easily make them pay for a mistake.
“As much as we’re creating offense, one turnover is all it takes for them to go back and score a goal,” Duclair said. “So you want to make sure that you’re even more focused.”
But the clear advantage of this strategy seems to be the opportunity to defend through offense – negating the opposition’s offense by making it defend the Coyotes’ skillful players.
“You have the puck, it’s tough for them to score,” Domi said. “So hang onto the puck and make plays and really, using your speed is something that can really limit their ability to play in our zone. We’re not the greatest D-zone guys, but we just tried to utilize our speed and our skill as much as we could to try to hang onto the puck.”
During their upcoming five-game road trip, the Coyotes will encounter more of the NHL’s elite players like Alex Ovechkin (Capitals), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), Jaromir Jagr (Panthers), Claude Giroux (Flyers) and Sidney Crosby (Penguins).
It’s unclear if Domi and Duclair will find themselves on the ice at the same time as these players on purpose, but they’re eager for whatever challenge awaits them as they try to sustain the team’s playoff hopes.
“You gotta be able to play to the best of your ability against anyone,” Domi said. “Whether you’re playing the first line or the fourth line, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s really good in the NHL, so obviously it’d be nice to get to play against those guys. But if not, you’re going to have to elevate your game to play against the other guys, too.”
Goal No. 1
Center Tyler Gaudet scored his first NHL goal in Thursday’s win, chipping in a valuable insurance marker in the third when he shot five-hole on Dallas goalie Antti Niemi.
“I just kind of closed my eyes and hoped for the best there,” Gaudet said.
The team has the puck and is commemorating it by putting it on a plaque for Gaudet.
“I’ll probably just give it to my parents,” he said.
Back in the mix
Winger Viktor Tikhonov dressed for a second straight game Saturday after being a healthy scratch for the previous four.
Tikhonov’s move to the sideline was a result of the Coyotes wanting to utilize seven defensemen and although it’s never easy to sit out, he tried to use the time to gain a fresh perspective on the game.
“It’s definitely not too pleasant being in the stands,” Tikhonov said. “But on the other hand, it’s good because you can kind of see the game from above. You kind of realize there’s a lot more time than you actually think there is. So next time you go out, you think you’re going to play a little calmer.”
Goalie Anders Lindback underwent successful, season-ending surgery on his Achilles’ tendon Friday after suffering the injury prior to Monday’s game.