Arizona Coyotes embark on difficult road trip with confidence
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes were in a different position on Tuesday, compared to the last time they hit the road for a multi-game trip.
For one, the team wasn’t searching for goal-scoring anymore, no longer having to reassure itself that if they play the right way, the results will eventually come. On their recent five-game homestand, which ended Monday, the team got the results it was looking for. The message has become one of continuity.
On Oct. 16, the Coyotes played the first of four games on a road trip. Coming into that game, Arizona had scored two goals in four games to start the season, suffering three shutouts. This time, the Coyotes are coming off a loss that ended a five-game winning streak and a five-game homestand on which they went 4-1-0 and scored 22 goals.
“It’s nice to build some confidence. I felt we played pretty well in the first five games of the year too, but the puck didn’t really bounce our way,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “And I feel during this homestand here we’ve had a couple of bounces our way and we’ve had great goaltending. We’ve had great goaltending all year, but our goalies have been playing unbelievable for us and been able to score a lot of goals and play good defensively.”
Monday’s loss, which was against the Flyers, can be avenged on Thursday with a rematch in Philadelphia. From there, the Coyotes will play a back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and reigning champion Washington Capitals before wrapping the trip on Tuesday in Detroit.
“We’ve actually shown this last four or five months, we’re a pretty good road team,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “We can compete and we can win some games.”
The Coyotes have a record of 11-9-4 in road games dating back to the start of the 2018 calendar year.
“Going on this road trip, it’s going to be a tough road trip, we’re playing some great teams,” Tocchet said. “It’s a good challenge for us. Saying that, we’ve just got to make sure that we don’t let our game slip and don’t have big, long losing streaks. If you look around the league, everybody’s kind of around — other than a couple teams that only have two, three losses — everybody’s in that range, it’s hard to win. It’s hard to stay consistent because there’s urgency in a lot of teams. You have to match that urgency.”
In particular, the weekend could prove difficult. The Coyotes will face the Penguins, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. The next day, they’ll be tasked with the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
“Just looking at the teams we’re going to play here on the road, it’s going to be probably one of the toughest road trips,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s going to be a fun challenge to kind of see where we’re at and how we can compete against some of the top teams in the league.”
The trip is a chance for the Coyotes to find out more about their own group.
“This is a mental toughness for a lot of young guys to — you might not feel good, your best, but you’ve still got to have that mental toughness, and you can still win games when you don’t feel good,” Tocchet said. “That’s the key. If you look at all the great teams, you can ask great players, ‘I didn’t feel good,’ but somehow they got the job done. And I thought on the homestand there was a couple games we were a little sluggish, but we hung in there and won the game and that’s the mentality we have to have.”
The Chicago Blackhawks made big hockey news on Tuesday by relieving head coach Joel Quenneville of his duties after 11 seasons.
The Coyotes happen to have several players that played for Quenneville: Hjalmarsson, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Richard Panik and Antti Raanta among them.
“Obviously I have great memories from my time in Chicago,” Hjalmarsson said. “I think having Q as a coach has helped me a lot. I feel he [taught] me a lot about how to play in my own end and how to have an active stick and how to play well defensively. So I think I have a lot to thank him for to help me in the beginning of my career.”
Hjalmarsson was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2005 and played 10 seasons there before he was traded to the Coyotes. He won three Stanley Cups there, all under Quenneville.
“I have so much respect for him,” he said. “I loved having him as a coach and I loved playing for him. But all good stories has an end, too, I guess. And he’s been there a long time, too. Maybe they wanted a change there, I guess. But yeah, great coach and I loved playing for him.”
— Defensemen Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers took maintenance days on Tuesday, not participating in practice following the game against the Flyers on Monday night.
The Coyotes recalled defenseman Dakota Mermis from the Tucson Roadrunners on Tuesday morning, but when asked if that was because of Goligoski and Demers getting banged up, Tocchet said it had more to do with getting depth on the road trip.
“We’re going out east so we don’t want to get surprised, if somebody can’t go,” Tocchet said. “It’s normal protocol, just have a guy in case something goes wrong. It’s harder to get a guy from west to east, right? So just let him come out and practice and come with us, and it’s a safety net just in case something happens.”
— Jakob Chychrun, who has yet to make his season debut has he recovers from a knee injury, continues to skate in practice with his teammates. The Coyotes have a target date for his return, but don’t want to rush him and will take the necessary steps to allow him to recover fully.
— Antti Raanta left practice early on Tuesday. Tocchet said he left as a precaution after he tweaked something.