CALGARY — Six-foot-six centre Martin Hanzal showed Thursday why he’s such a big part of the Arizona Coyotes’ success.
Hanzal returned from injury and scored the game-winning goal in the Coyotes’ 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
Sidelined for the past seven games and 11 of the last 12 with a lower-body injury, the 28-year-old Czech broke a 1-1 tie 1:47 into the third by deflecting in Stefan Elliott’s point shot.
“He’s a big body out there. You don’t realize how much you miss him until he comes back,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett. “He solidifies our centre ice. It’s certainly good to have him back.”
Hanzal was also involved in the tying goal at 18:11 of the first, screening Ramo as Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s point shot changed directions off a Flames player for a power-play goal.
“We were just hoping for the win because it was such a big game tonight,” said Hanzal. “They were two points behind us. It was pretty much playoff mentality.”
Arizona (20-16-4) sits alone in second in the Pacific Division on the strength of a 6-1-2 record in its last nine games. The Coyotes have been especially solid within the division going 9-1-2.
“It’s going to come to divisional games because that’s really huge,” said Hanzal. “It’s really tight. If we keep winning against Pacific Division teams we might get in.”
Johnny Gaudreau, with his team-leading 18th goal, scored for Calgary (19-19-2).
“Very disappointed because those are the games where you need to compete, to win battles, to keep competing and we didn’t have everyone tonight,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley. “You can’t win when you have five or six forwards going. It’s sad but we were just not good enough.”
The Flames struck first at 14:37 of the first but they were stymied the rest of the way by rookie goaltender Louis Domingue.
With veteran Mike Smith injured, Domingue made his fifth straight start and he continues to play well. He made 25 saves to improve to 5-2-2 and increase his save percentage to .930.
“His demeanour in practice and in games is the same. He just goes out there and plays and he’s playing very well,” said Tippett.
The 23-year-old’s best stop came in the third period when he denied Mikael Backlund on a two-on-one that would have tied it.
“We played a great defensive game. We’ve been talking about limiting the scoring chances from the middle of the ice and that’s what we did,” said Domingue. “We didn’t feed off their rush either. We didn’t make turnovers at the blue line. We just got the puck deep, played a simple road game and got the two points.”
Ramo has also been hot lately. Starting his 11th game in a row, he had 31 stops to keep Calgary in it but fell to 15-13-1.
“Whenever you score only one goal and (Ramo) makes over 30 saves, you feel like you let your goalie down,” said Flames centre Matt Stajan. “That was a big game for us and we know that. We needed more energy than we had. No excuses.”
The Coyotes picked up five points on their three-game Western Canada road trip and now return home where on Saturday night, they’ll host Nashville to kick-off a seven-game homestand.