Curtis Joseph won’t allow his Hall of Fame numbers to go to his head.
Always humble when asked to talk about himself, the veteran goalie remained the same Tuesday after passing childhood idol Tony Esposito for sole possession of sixth place on the NHL’s all-time wins list in the Coyotes’ 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators at Glendale Arena.
“In the short term you really think of our team and what you have to do, and you don’t think about the big picture or the milestones,” said Joseph, who earned win No. 424. “Maybe one day you have a chance to reflect on that. . . .
“It’s not time to reflect now, but . . . to be mentioned in the same sentence as Tony Esposito is a good feeling.”
Coach Wayne Gretzky, the man who has achieved more milestones than any player in NHL history, put Joseph’s latest accomplishment in perspective.
“Records are pretty special at the professional level in that you know how important they are and how hard they are to get,” Gretzky said.
“If you look at his career, a guy who gets that many wins, it’s from a lot of effort and a lot of hard work and a lot of hours. . . . It was nice and he has been tremendous for us all year long.”
Joseph finished with 28 saves to win his third straight start and improve to 28-20-2.
He also received plenty of offensive support. Oleg Kvasha, Shane Doan, Derek Morris and Mike Comrie all had a goal and an assist for Phoenix (34-34-4). Doan’s goal was his 27th, matching his career high for a season.
With the game tied at 2 in the second, the Coyotes went ahead for good at 17:05 of the period on a short-handed goal by Keith Ballard. After a kick save by Joseph, Morris set up the play with a long pass from Phoenix’s end to Tyson Nash who was out ahead in the neutral zone, racing the other way. Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun blocked Nash’s shot, but Ballard buried the rebound.
“It was a great play by Derek Morris,” said Nash, who is known more for his physical play than offense but led Phoenix in shots (seven) and hits (four). “The puck was bobbling all the way down the ice. I was lucky to get a little bit of wood on it. Bally came in and cleaned up the garbage. It was nice just to contribute offensively for a change.”
The victory was the fifth in the past seven games for Phoenix.
When he was asked Monday if newly signed Bill Thomas would play Tuesday, Gretzky leaned his head back, laughed and replied, “No.”
Gretzky said he planned to work the forward slowly into the Coyotes system. Injury and illness forced his hand and Thomas suited up for Phoenix only five days after his college career ended.
“From one point of view, it’s tough to throw a kid in that situation,” said Gretzky, who was without defenseman Jamie Rivers (bruised left foot) and Mara (flu) and forward Dave Scatchard (bronchitis). “On the other side of it, maybe he didn’t have to think about it all day and get nervous and worry about it.”
Thomas has had a whirlwind past few days. On Friday he had a goal in the NCAA tournament for Nebraska-Omaha, which was knocked out. He turned professional Saturday, signed with Phoenix Sunday and flew to the Valley on Monday.
Then Tuesday he didn’t know he was playing until 10 minutes before the game when Scatchard was declared too ill to play. Thinking he wasn’t playing, Thomas didn’t arrive at the arena until half an hour before the game. His first NHL shift came on the power play, less than five minutes into the game.
“That was a surprise,” Thomas said. “I tried to get some open space and not get in anybody else’s way.”
Matthew Spiller, who was called up Monday to fill in for Rivers, had an assist for his first career NHL point.