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Maple Leafs drop to bottom of Phoenix Coyotes and goalie Karel Vejmelka

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Who invited Karel Vejmelka to spoil the Maple Leafs big comeback party in Arizona?

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The Coyotes goaltender, usually forced to work with the worst goal support in the NHL, ruined the night for Auston Matthews, Michael Bunting and many other Leafs with a 45-save night and a 2-1 win. .

Ryan Dzingel’s second of the night at 7:18 of the third period was the winner for the severely understaffed and 32nd-place Coyotes, behind defenseman TJ Brodie, while goaltender Petr Mrazek missed a hit. on the cross pass. by Nick Schmaltz.

Matthews, along with a crowd of family and friends in the sparse crowd at Gila River Arena, made five shots in 15 minutes of mostly frustrating ice time, before hopping on a loose puck and burying it 14 seconds into the third period.

This set the club’s record of nine consecutive road games with one goal, breaking the tie with Babe Dye, Frank Mahovlich and Daniel Marois, separated by a century. William Nylander was after the 300th career point and several Leafs had impressive scores, but the almost unknown Vejmelka had other ideas.

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Matthews’ teammate Bunting was back where his NHL career kicked off, but Vejmelka also had his number for much of the night. Coach Sheldon Keefe was also working in front of special guests, his wife being from Scottsdale, which is where his Leafs concert began in November 2019 when he replaced Mike Babcock.

Going into that back-to-back game, Keefe had some gripes about the Leafs’ attention to detail in the shootout victory in Vegas on Tuesday and overtime loss to Colorado.

“These things can’t happen if you want to deal with games against good teams,” he said. “(Arizona) is a game we can’t ignore. We must be a little exasperated by the way we let prospects slip away, turn that aggravation into motivation. “

It was a unique goalie game, with Jack Campbell taking the night as one of the best in the NHL this year, allowing injury-plagued Petr Mrazek his first start in a month, against his compatriot Czech. Mrazek’s biggest worry was inactivity, as the Leafs had a 2-1 shooting margin in 40 minutes.

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Matthews’ proud parents were in attendance, including a few relatives of his mother from northern Mexico. Matthews said ahead of the game that he was being followed across the border.

“They really like to watch. Now my little cousins ​​picked it up, they skate and stuff like that. It’s really cool. As far as their hockey knowledge goes, I’m sure they’ve learned a lot over the years. They really support me a lot, it really means a lot to me.

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Bunting, after finishing last season strong for his draft team, took a free agent offer back to his GTA roots.

“It was a tough decision because I had been with the Coyotes for so long. But it was too good not to be with the team in my hometown and live my childhood dream. It has been an incredible experience.

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Bunting’s hockey ties to Arizona are stronger with the AHL Tucson Roadrunners, not just one town in a Beatles song.

“Tucson started hockey five years ago and I was there the first season. The city was great, behind us from the start. Not many people knew much about hockey, but they jumped on board and supported us. Every year more fans came out. It is now a hockey town, one of the best in the AHL.

The Leafs bombarded Vejmelka in the first with two power plays early on, but couldn’t cash either, a bad omen. When Travis Dermott was hesitant to try and pass the baton to Timothy Liljegren, he was pulled out and eventually ended up behind Mrazek, credited to Dzingel on Arizona’s third shot only.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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