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Excuses aside, Coyotes’ early season travel schedule is ridiculous

Arizona Coyotes center Nick Cousins, center, celebrates his goal against the Detroit Red Wings with Arizona Coyotes right wing Mario Kempe, of Sweden, (29) and Adam Clendening (5) in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Coyotes’ myriad issues in a 2-12-1 start have been dissected ad nauseam. Here’s one issue that hasn’t been discussed enough: their travel schedule.

The assumption by many fans is that travel schedules eventually balance out for all teams. That assumption is incorrect. Eastern Conference teams travel far fewer miles because the distance between those cities is shorter, and some teams seem to earn advantages from the league each year because of strong advocacy on the part of their ownership.

The NHL’s schedule makers did the Coyotes no such favors. It appears they stuck it to them instead.

As we noted when the Coyotes returned from their first East Coast road trip last week, Arizona will have played 33 games by Dec. 10. Twenty-one of those will have been played on the road and 16 of them will have been played in either the Eastern or Central time zones.

When the Coyotes returned home from their five-game eastern swing through the three New York area teams, Philadelphia and Detroit, they played two home games against Buffalo (Thursday) and Carolina (Saturday) with just a day’s rest in between. They hit the road again Sunday morning for another East Coast-Midwest swing through Washington (Monday) Pittsburgh (Tuesday) and St. Louis (Thursday).

They get one off day before hosting Winnipeg on Saturday, and then hit the road again for a Canadian road trip through Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, Nov. 14-20.

They return home for two games against Los Angeles and Vegas, Nov. 24-25, hit the road again for games at Edmonton and Calgary, Nov. 28-30. They return for one home game against New Jersey on Dec. 2, and then play four more road games at Vegas, Boston, Columbus and Chicago, Dec. 3-10.

If you know anything about sports science, you understand the toll that sort of travel and constant shifting of time zones takes on the body. Players need rest. The problem for the Coyotes is they also have another desperate need.

“We’re a young team. We need practice time and we’re not getting it,” coach Rick Tocchet noted after a loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. “That’s not an excuse but that’s reality and we’re going to have to think of other ways as coaches to get these guys to understand the importance of how hard it is to win.”

The Coyotes need reps to work their way through the myriad flaws in their game, and the myriad fine points of a new coaching staff’s system.

“You always want practice to correct things and we haven’t had a lot of practice days,” Tocchet said. “As a coach, you want to work on 10 things but you can’t because rest is important with these young kids, too.”

In these instances, coaches resort to more video and classroom-type instructions, and that is what the Coyotes will have to do. For the remainder of November, they play two sets of back-to-back games and they have just two instances where they get two days off in between games.

Not until the Coyotes return from Chicago on Dec. 10, with the holidays approaching, will Tocchet and his staff have a genuine opportunity to give the gift of instruction.

Tocchet reiterated numerous times that he didn’t want to use the schedule as an excuse for losing, but when you compare the Coyotes’ schedule to other teams’ schedules, it’s fair to wonder what the league’s excuse is for compiling this slate.


Coyotes at Capitals

When: 5 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Records: Coyotes — 2-12-1. Capitals — 7-6-1.
Injury report: Coyotes — D Jakob Chychrun (knee) is out indefinitely. D Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) is on injured reserve. Capitals — F Brett Connolly (upper body) is day-to-day. F Tyler Graovac (upper body) is week-to-week. D Matt Niskanen (upper body) is on injured reserve. F Andre Burakovsky (fractured left thumb) is out.

Capitals scouting report: Washington has won two straight games. … F Alex Ovechkin leads the team with 11 goals and is tied with F Evgeny Kuznetsov for the team lead in points with 16.

Coyotes scouting report: The Coyotes recalled defenseman Joel Hanley from Tucson of the American Hockey League and he joined the team on the trip. … General manager John Chayka said Hjalmarsson would not start the trip with the team and Chychrun would not travel at all.

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