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The Arizona Coyotes are focused on starting the new season strong

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet believes the team is more comfortable playing in his system this year than last due to added time with the group. (Photo by Sam Ficarro/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – After a strong finish last season and a busy offseason, the Coyotes start up again Thursday night against the Dallas Stars.

The Coyotes hope to get off to a faster start after losing their first 11 games last season, tying an NHL record for the worst start.

“History shows that when you play well at the beginning of the year, you have a better chance of making the playoffs,” Derek Stepan said. “Our group has been focused on that since the beginning of camp. We want to make sure we are ready to go from game one.”

Despite the importance of starting the season on the right foot, Stepan believes there’s no added urgency to start the season quick.

“We did some good things last year but right now it’s 0-0-0. I like what we did and we learned a lot. Our group is starting to find an identity for ourselves and I think we want to try to apply that as fast as we can.”

After their historically poor start to last season, the Coyotes went 20-14-7 in 2018. Arizona is hoping last season’s finish is more indicative of what’s to come. With that said, Stepan believes last season is in the rearview mirror.

“I don’t want to put anything on last year’s finish any more. It’s something we did, and it was great for us, but there’s zeroes across the board,” Stepan said. “We are ready to apply our system and our identity we want to play starting tomorrow.”

Veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson agreed with Stepan.

“For me and the rest of the guys here, it’s just a new season. I think everybody’s pretty good of forgetting what happened last year. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past. You just have to focus on the next game.”

The Coyotes are coming off a successful preseason, posting a 4-2-1 record. Special teams is a positive the group will look to take into the regular season after finishing with the second-most power play goals in the preseason this year.

However, Stepan was cautious about taking too much away from exhibition games.

“You take a good chunk of it. You have to understand it still is preseason and it ramps up quite a bit tomorrow (Thursday),” Stepan said. “The game is a lot different. I like our power play and the way we moved it so that’s important, but I wouldn’t take too much.”

The Coyotes enter the season with health concerns with Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun on injured reserve to begin the season.

Head coach Rick Tocchet doesn’t want to place too much pressure on the players filling their spots in the lineup.

“I don’t want guys to think we have to have a good start, we got to do this, we got to do that and freeze out there. The opportunities are there. Go grab it, seize the moment and just go play. If you do the right things and work hard, long enough you’ll get good results.”

Hjalmarsson, who played in 48 games last season dealing with various injuries, believes starting the season strong is highly important.

“It’s huge. Every season, the first 10 games set the tone for the rest of the season. I think we really have to focus on having a good start this year and try to find a way to get as many points as we can,” Hjalmarsson said. “Obviously, we’ll focus one game at a time but it’s really important not to feel pressure after 10 games. We definitely have to have a better start than last year.”

Tocchet believes the team is more comfortable playing in his system this year than last due to added time with the group.

“Obviously, guys know the system a lot better. There’s more people comfortable in the sense of knowing where to go, what to do and know who I am,” Tocchet said. “Last year, it was on-the-job training and they had to learn the game. Now, they know what to expect and they’ll know when they made a mistake or missed a coverage read. Last year, they might not have known but this year they will.”

Stepan said he felt that training camp was “10 times better” just because of the team’s familiarity with Tocchet, the system and each other.

After playing the Stars Thursday night, the Coyotes will host the Anaheim Ducks in their home opener Saturday night.

“I think everyone is done with the preseason and we’re ready for regular season action,” Stepan said. “I think this group is ready. We had a really good camp and the guys are just itching to play some real hockey.”

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