Coyotes Corner: Vejmelka Shines, But Team Still Searching for First Win

Andrew Ladd, Arizona Coyotes, Karel Vejmelka, Key Post

Welcome to the first edition of Coyotes Corner, a weekly column that will highlight the Arizona Coyotes‘ week of play, and also look ahead to upcoming games. The team kicked off its regular season last week, and left with one point to show for it. The Coyotes had some hard luck in their season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets, losing 8-2, and then lost to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout.

Arizona Coyotes Corner Jakob Chychrun & Clayton Keller

The Coyotes will play at Gila River Arena for the first time this year, starting a three-game homestand with a game against the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Central Division Standings (As of 10/18/2021)

Team Record Points

Minnesota Wild 2-0-0 4

St. Louis Blues 1-0-0 2

Colorado Avalanche 1-1-0 2

Dallas Stars 1-1-0 2

Arizona Coyotes 0-1-1 1

Chicago Blackhawks 0-2-1 1

Nashville Predators 0-2-0 0

Winnipeg Jets 0-2-0 0

The Week That Was

Coyotes vs. Blue Jackets (Oct. 14, 8-2 Loss)

The Coyotes kicked off their regular season in Columbus, and it’s fair to say things didn’t exactly go according to plan for Arizona. It was an emotional night for the Blue Jackets and their fans, as the team honored fallen teammate Matīss Kivlenieks in a pregame ceremony, and then came out hot right from the start en route to an 8-2 victory.

What Went Right
Arizona dominated in shots on goal all night long, finishing with 38, compared to Columbus’ 26. Anton Stralman scored the team’s first goal of the season in the second period, which at the time made it a 3-1 game, and Clayton Keller chipped in a power-play goal late in the third. By then, the game was already decided, but Columbus scored one more to add insult to injury, winning 8-2.

For what it’s worth, though, those white Kachina jerseys looked phenomenal.

What Went Wrong
Pretty much everything else. Despite outshooting and out-chancing the Blue Jackets, goalie Carter Hutton struggled to get into any sort of rhythm, and he stopped just 18 of 26 shots. Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny was quick to defend his veteran netminder, and rightfully so, considering the Coyotes won just 45 percent of their draws and blocked just nine shots, compared to the Blue Jackets’ 19. The team also allowed two power-play goals on three Columbus chances.

Top Coyotes Performers
Stralman and Keller, who each had one goal apiece.

Key Takeaway
There’s a lot of work to be done, both defensively and on special teams.

Coyotes vs. Sabres (Oct. 16, 2-1 Shootout Loss)

Arizona played a much more sound game in a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Sabres, anchored by rookie goalie Karel Vejmelka, who made his NHL debut. Despite a stellar performance between the pipes, Buffalo forced a shootout, and ultimately earned two points with the win. The loss forces Touringy to wait at least one more game to get his first win as an NHL head coach, though the Coyotes did salvage a point with the shootout loss.

Related: Coyotes’ Vejmelka Defies Odds, Makes 23-Man Roster

What Went Right
Two words: Karel Vejmelka. The 25-year-old goalie stood on his head in his NHL debut, stopping 32-of-33 shots that he faced on Saturday. The Coyotes protected the puck much better, turning the puck over just three times, and Andrew Ladd followed up his strong preseason showing by notching his first goal of the season.

Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes
Goaltender Karel Vejmelka of the Arizona Coyotes answers questions after Sunday’s Rookie Faceoff Tournament game against the Los Angeles Kings (Patrick Brown / The Hockey Writers)

What Went Wrong
Arizona still struggled on faceoffs, winning just 42.5 percent of its draws. The penalty kill was also disappoining, as the Coyotes allowed one goal on just two Buffalo power plays.The team’s offense also struggled to generate more opportunities, getting outshot 33-21.

Top Coyotes Performer
Vejmelka, whose performance single-handedly kept Arizona in the game. He almost stole a win.

Key Takeaway
The team needs to shore things up defensively, and focus on creating more offensive opportunities. Also, the penalty kill needs to be addressed, as the Coyotes have killed off just two of their five penalties this season.

Looking Ahead

Upcoming Games
Monday, Oct. 17 vs. St. Louis, 7 pm
The Coyotes welcome the Blues to Gila River Arena today in what is Arizona’s first home regular season game of the year. The Blues have played just one game to this point — a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche — so St. Louis has already shown plenty of firepower in its lineup. Winger David Perron scored two goals against the Avalanche, and Jordan Binnington stopped 29-of-32 shots he faced.

Thursday, Oct. 21 vs. Edmonton, 7 pm
It won’t get any easier for the Coyotes on Thursday, as the high-octane Edmonton Oilers visit The Valley. The 2-0 Oilers have already imposed their will on both the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, led by — who else — Connor McDavid. His five points in two games already lead the team, and he recorded his 11th career hat trick in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Flames. Jesse Puljujarvi has come out of the gate quickly, as he already has two goals on the year, and Leon Draisaitl his four points, all assists.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
The Coyotes host the high-octane Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Saturday, Oct. 23 vs. NY Islanders, 6 pm
The New York Islanders will visit Gila River Arena on Saturday, and at 0-2 they have some soul-searching to do early on. Their defense appears to be struggling early, having lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 6-3 and Florida Panthers 5-1, getting collectively outscored 11-4 in their first two games of the year. Winger Kyle Palmieri leads the team with two points, while goalie Ilya Sorokin has posted a 5.09 goals-against average and .855 save percentage to this point.

Quotables

“It’s been a long road for me. That feeling of putting the puck in the back of the net for me is something I thrive on. To be able to get back to this point and feel that again was a proud moment for myself.”
Ladd on scoring his first goal since March 10, 2020

“He was phenomenal. He kept us there. When we got a little bit tired on the ice when we extended some shifts, ‘Veja’ came up big and made key saves. Good for him … we’re really happy about him.”
Tourigny on Vejmelka’s NHL debut. (from ‘Coyotes fall 2-1 in overtime shootout; Karel Vejmelka shines in goal in NHL debut,’ Arizona Republic, 10/16/2021)

“Leadership guys definitely stepped up in between periods. We don’t want to quit no matter what the score is”
Keller on the team’s effort in its 8-2 loss to Columbus

On The Hockey Twittersphere

“I think we got better, we had great leadership on the bench, and I think the boys did a good job to keep everyone together and stay in the game.”
The Wrap from today’s game against Buffalo:
https://t.co/GHUAKnhDOE
Game recap, Coyotes-Sabres. More coverage coming. A good bounce-back for Arizona after how Thursday went. https://t.co/jKXHyw9Jay

Catch Up On All The News

Coyotes Daily Download – Recap, Stats, Injuries & News
3 Takeaways From the Coyotes’ 8-2 Loss to the Blue Jackets
Coyotes’ Crouse Is Poised for Breakout Season
Coyotes’ Karel Vejmelka Defies Odds, Makes 23-Man Roster

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