Karel Vejmelka’s huge night helps Coyotes hold off Maple Leafs

The rookie goaltender made 45 saves in his fourth career win


James Mackey

The Coyotes bested the Maple Leafs in Wednesday’s low-scoring encounter.

The Arizona Coyotes played their fourth consecutive home game on Wednesday, welcoming the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs to Gila River Arena.

The Coyotes had four rookie defensive stand-ins amidst a COVID-19 outbreak on the bench. Head coach André Tourigny was in the league’s health and safety protocol, as well. 

After a “feeling-out” period to begin the game, Ryan Dzingel batted a puck out of the air and past Toronto goaltender Petr Mrazek to make it 1-0 Coyotes. The 29-year-old, just back from injury, grabbed his third goal this season on the play.

Arizona maintained their lead through the second period, even as the Maple Leafs outshot them 15-6 in the frame. Rookie goalie Karel Vejmelka “stood on his head” throughout the first 40 minutes and stopped everything Toronto’s loaded offense threw his way.

But Auston Matthews had an answer. Just 14 seconds into the third period, the Scottsdale native scored his 24th goal of the season to tie the game. Ex-Coyote Michael Bunting and long-time Leaf Jake Muzzin grabbed the assists.

The game looked to be heading for overtime when at 12:42 of the third, Dzingel got his second goal of the evening. Nick Schmaltz and Alex Galchenyuk provided the helpers, and now it was up to the Coyotes’ defense to make the lead hold up.

The hosts’ penalty kill flourished and did not allow the dangerous Leafs offense to convert on three man-advantage opportunities. Vejmelka finished with 45 saves on 46 shots as the Coyotes eventually pulled out the surprise 2-1 victory in front of their fans.

Next up, the Coyotes move onto a home-and-home set with the Colorado Avalanche. They then host last season’s Stanley Cup runners-up, the Montreal Canadiens, in a Monday matinee on Jan. 21.