The NHL returned from their Olympic break on Thursday night with a bang. The Phoenix Coyotes squared off against the Winnipeg Jets in a very exciting contest. Both teams entered into the game with a similar amount of desperation, and in the same situation. In the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, both teams came into Thursday on the outside, looking in on the playoff picture.
It was a competitive game that went back and forth, ending with the Jets winning in a shootout. With the win, the Jets made the race for eighth even tighter and now sit one point behind the Coyotes with 64 points.
One of the many interesting story lines from this game was the performances of the players who were returning from Sochi. Both starting goaltenders represented their countries at the games. Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec represented the Czech Republic and came up with 34 saves, and Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who won gold with Team Canada , racked up 27 saves in his league-leading 50th appearance.
An interesting player who was present in Sochi, but didn’t receive so much attention while at the games, returned to the NHL in triumphant fashion Thursday. Sweden’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored Phoenix’s first goal of the game and his ninth of the season. Ekman-Larsson also logged 29:18 of ice time, showing why he is so valuable to Phoenix. He also earned himself the second star of the game from the three stars selection.
Many Coyotes fans have watched the skilled young defenseman grow into one of the top defenseman in the league over the past few seasons. It was puzzling to see the Swede’s use Ekman-Larsson so sparingly at the Olympics, so it appeared that he came back to the NHL with a chip on his shoulder. He will look to show his country what they missed out on in the final quarter of the regular season.