Cat’s Defense Stifles the Coyotes

By Scott Petersen

New goaltender, same problem for the Phoenix Coyotes. Same goaltender, same great performance for the Florida Panthers.

Some familiar aspects found their way into the lone game Thursday night at the Robert Guertin Arena, as the Coyotes suffered their second straight high-scoring defeat of the tournament, a 7-2 loss to the Panthers.

Billy Thompson had a stellar game, stopping 39 of the 41 shots he faced and keeping most of his rebounds under control.

“He was pretty good here last year too,” says Panthers assistant coach Paul Baxter. “Our scouts did a good job of picking him and I think he’s got a chance. This will be a big year in junior for him to prove he’s a prospect.

“By all indications he’s improving and that’s key for the young guys,” he adds. “Every season they need to get better and give themselves a chance to be successful.”

Thompson says that much of the credit on the night has to go to the defence in front of him. A corps highlighted by Jay Bouwmeester, Lukas Krajicek, Filip Novak and Jeremy Swanson had their second consistently strong match.

“It’s great, there’s four, five, or even six solid defencemen to put out on the ice,” says Thompson. “There’s no tight passing across the front of the net and that makes it easy for me.

“(They) kept all the shots to the outside and if those shots go in, then that’s on me because I have to stop those ones.”

Phoenix goaltender Steve Belanger looked shaky in the nets allowing seven goals on 36 shots. He battled the puck all night and had trouble controlling his rebounds. Belanger says the first goal, a fluky goal on a point shot that deflected off a shin pad in front of the net, may have rattled him a bit at the start of the game.

“After the first goal, I got a little scrambly and wasn’t controlling the first shot,” he says. “I was fighting the puck too much and that’s why it was bouncing off me.
“Usually I do a pretty good job of controlling ‘em and putting them in corners. I think I started thinking about it too much instead of playing my game.”

It was the second straight night the Coyotes had given up seven goals in a game.

“Any time you lose 7-2, you’re not happy,” says Jeff Taffe, the Coyotes’ player of the game after registering the team’s second goal off a nice pass across the top of the slot. “Anytime you just throw a crop of guys together, they’re not going to play great. I think guys are trying hard and that’s all you can ask for.”

“Overall, I think we had a pretty decent game,” says Belanger. “At times, just like me, we were a little scrambly and we may have been out-muscled a bit.

“(But) in the end, it came down to the back end and I think if I’d controlled the rebounds, it would’ve been a lot closer.”

Baxter was impressed with how his lines have gelled early in the tournament, even though this is just the beginning of his team’s camp and the lines were thrown together.

“We played with a lot of heart and we played together,” he says. “I think we somewhat frustrated Phoenix with our effort.

The combination of Bouwmeester and Krajicek in particular proved very effective against opponents, moving the puck well, making smart pinches and doing a good job of reading off each other.

“They definitely got an opportunity,” says Baxter of the duo’s chances of playing in the NHL this year. “I can’t say their exact chances, but they’ll be players for sure.”

Panthers players who made the score sheet included Tony Koivisto who potted two goals and an assist and impressed with his speed on the ice. Swanson scored two goals from the point and received player of the game honours for his team and Josh Olson, Lukas Krajicek and Greg Campbell each had a goal and an assist, with Stephen Weiss picking up two assists. Brett Lutes picked up Phoenix’s first goal of the game.

Both teams will receive a day off to practice and recharge their batteries before returning to the ice on Saturday night. Baxter says it’s likely Thompson will once again get the call in net against Montreal in the afternoon game and Phoenix will take on Ottawa in the later match-up.