Avalanche top Coyotes in game marred by fights
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a matter of minutes, the Colorado Avalanche lost their leading scorer to an ejection and a key defenseman to a broken hand. But despite being punched and pushed around by the Arizona Coyotes, the Avalanche weren’t about to lose the game.
Matt Nieto had a goal and an assist as the depleted Avalanche scored four goals in less than four minutes after a series of nasty mid-ice fights and went on to beat the Coyotes 6-2 on Saturday night.
“That gave us, clearly, quite a bit of energy,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “Four goals in four minutes, that was a big key to the game. That was wild.”
Carl Soderberg began the flurry of scoring, J.T. Compher and Nail Yakupov followed with goals on the same power play resulting from Coyotes center Zac Rinaldo’s match penalty, and the Avalanche needed only 3:46 to turn a scoreless game into a 4-0 lead.
Soderberg finished with two goals and Alexander Kerfoot had two assists. Semyon Varlamov turned aside 32 shots despite allowing two short-handed goals to Derek Stepan, helping the Avalanche to improve to 5-2-1 in their last eight games.
Arizona, which halted a seven-game losing streak by beating Washington 3-2 in overtime Friday, gave up three power-play goals while losing its eighth in nine games and 11th in 13.
“When you get scored on four times, it’s going to be tough to come back,” said Stepan, who insisted the fights didn’t influence the game. “We were sharp for a period and a half, then the wheels came off.”
The game flipped suddenly after Rinaldo leveled Nathan MacKinnon with a shoulder hit in the neutral zone, then dropped Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard with a punch when he rushed in to defend MacKinnon. Rinaldo then skirmished with defenseman Erik Johnson at the same time newly acquired Coyotes forward Josh Archibald fought with MacKinnon.
“We took exception to the play — when something like that happens you want to stick up for one another,” Johnson said. “It’s good to see that. Nate got into a little bit of a scrum and I’m going to stick up for anybody if I take exception to it, and I’m glad it sparked us.”
Rinaldo, Archibald and MacKinnon were ejected, and Johnson drew a five-minute fighting penalty. By drawing a match penalty, Rinaldo is automatically suspended until the NHL reviews the sequence.
Colorado quickly seized control after that despite apparently getting the worst of the fighting and losing its leading scorer in MacKinnon.
Colorado also was without defenseman Tyson Barrie (fractured right hand) for the final two periods after he was struck by a shot by Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Girard was out of the game briefly but returned in the third period.
“They lost their best player — MacKinnon is one of the best players in the league — and they were down to four or five defensemen, and I’ll take that every night,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “(But) they got juice from it.”
Soderberg got it going by scoring four-on-four at 10:20 of the second period with a wrist shot that deflected off the left post and past goalie Antti Raanta.
Compher made it 2-0 on a power play only 1:16 later, and Yakupov followed with another power-play goal 1:50 later, causing Tocchet to yank Raanta.
“Obviously, it was pretty important, that fight,” Soderberg said. “It gave us some spark and ended up with a power play there and got two goals and that was big.”
Only 40 seconds after Scott Wedgewood replaced Raanta, Nieto scored his fifth of the season from the low slot.
“Our goalie was just OK and a couple of guys were not good,” Tocchet said. “You put that in a blender and you come up with a 6-2 loss.”
Stepan later became the first Coyotes player to score two short-handed goals in the same game since Tobias Rieder in 2014, briefly making it 4-2.
But Sven Andrighetto scored on a power play only 29 seconds after Stepan’s second goal, and Soderberg finished it off with his second goal of the game and sixth of the season later in the third.
NOTES: Avalanche D Erik Johnson returned after serving a two-game suspension for boarding. ... The teams play again Wednesday in Denver after the league’s three-day Christmas break. The NHL hasn’t played on Christmas since 1972. ... Arizona LW Anthony Duclair started on the top line after being scratched the previous two games. LW Brendan Perlini went from being on the No. 1 line Friday to being scratched. ... Arizona D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) still hasn’t played since Nov. 28, and his return is uncertain. He has appeared in only five games since Oct. 30. ... The teams skated five-on-five, four-on-four, four-on-three and five-on-three in the final 2:55 of the first period after three quick penalties, two on Colorado. ... Arizona C Brad Richardson left in the third period with an upper-body injury.