GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes had four days in between games earlier this week, so Antoine Vermette took the opportunity to break in a new pair of skates.
They didn’t alter his recent run of good fortune.
Vermette had an empty-net goal and won 10 of 13 faceoffs in the Coyotes’ 3-1 win over San Jose on Thursday at Gila River Arena. The Arizona center has five goals and 10 points in his last six games after recording just 10 goals and 24 points in his previous 58.
“It’s always nice to contribute that way because it’s a fun part of the game,” Vermette said. “I think it’s a combination of finally getting rewarded for some work and also I am finding my ice better and it’s been clicking with my linemates.”
Vermette’s hot streak coincides with the arrival of fellow French-Canadian linemate Alex Tanguay, whom the Coyotes acquired in a trade for Mikkel Boedker on Feb. 29. Tanguay missed the first game after the trade with a mild knee sprain, but when he jumped into the lineup alongside Vermette and right wing Anthony Duclair on March 5 against Florida, Vermette tied a career high with four points (goal and three assists) in a 5-1 win.
“Some of it is power play time, some of it is five on five, but it seems like lately, Tanguay and Duclair, when we put them together, they’ve generated a little offense,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “(Antoine’s) capitalizing on some opportunities; getting some bounces and capitalizing on them.”
In the six games the trio has played together, Tanguay has three goals and seven points and the line has accounted for eight goals and 20 points. Two of Vermette’s goals have come on the power play, one was a game-winner, he is plus-6 over that span and he has raised his faceoff winning percentage to 55.4 for the season.
“I think I’m trusting my instincts a little better and I’m finding the areas of the ice where I can get the puck in a dangerous position,” Vermette said. “Alex is a great passer, Anthony has good skill, we understand how each other plays and we complement each other well.
“I know Alex as a player well. I got to see him in the summer a few times and I’ve been following his career from a distance. He sees the ice well and when you get in position he’s going to look for the open man. Also, he likes to work the give-and-go and that is very suitable to my game.”
The first quarter of the season was a struggle for Vermette. He had just two goals and five points through the first 20 games and Tippett thought the numbers reflected Vermette’s play.
“The first part of the year was not much at all,” Tippett said. “Then he went through a pretty good streak there where, with all these scoring chances and stats we keep, he was back to normal. Then he dipped down a little bit but lately he’s back up there again.”
Vermette said the experience of 12 NHL seasons has helped him navigate the ups and downs.
“You expect a lot out of yourself. You’re competitive. That’s a given, but the experience factor helped no doubt,” he said. “You always have to bring the right work ethic but sometimes you still have to be smart, be in the right position and read off the situation where you can sniff out a chance. Sometimes you have to trust yourself to get ahead and get in position in certain situations.”
He has another year left on his contract with a no-move clause so he will be back next year. He hopes to use this late streak as springboard into next season, but he also understands there could be new faces at the center position if prospects Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak makes next season’s roster. Those additions could alter Vermette’s role on the ice, but his off-ice mentor role won’t change.
“When I came back here I knew that was the plan with an injection of youth,” Vermette said. “I took a lot of pride coming in here and working with these guys; being a good influence and trying to push things in the right direction with that mix of individuals.
“We want to move things forward regardless of the situation. We’re trying to build a good chemistry and that’s something that motivates me. ”
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