Thank goodness it’s the preseason.
The Phoenix Coyotes had their first home preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. And it looked like preseason hockey. Never before have I seen a player who vied for a Stanley Cup last season fan so many times or two veterans collide then stop to look at one another as if trying to determine whose fault it was.
While the young boys were sent to California to compete for roster spots, many of the veterans stayed home to work out the kinks of the offseason.
And boy, were there some kinks.
In a game played without any emotion aside from a minor spat in the third period, the Coyotes looked lackluster when getting to the puck and did not have the crispness expected of veterans, preseason aside. I realize some muscles need to be stretched and handling the puck is difficult on Arizona dirt, but some play could have been better.
I was not thrilled with the pairing of Derek Morris and Keith Yandle on defense. To remove all doubt, I will admit to not being a Yandle fan. That being said, an offensive-minded defenseman like Yandle needs a wall behind him to cover when he loses the puck. Morris is a good skater, but in the regular season, I would like to see Yandle covered by a big guy like Rostislav Klesla or Adrian Aucoin — who I think deserves the “A” on his sweater more than Yandle, but that’s for another article.
Surprisingly, the third line did not look as solid as I thought it would. With high-energy skaters Lauri Korpikoski, Viktor Tikhonov and Raffi Torres, I expected explosive skating combined with subtle touches. The skill and speed are there, but the chemistry needs time.
However, there were some promising moments. A line of Ray Whitney, Daymond Langkow and captain Shane Doan could be a potent force this season. To be known from here on out as the Turtle Line — slow and steady — the three vets used their knowledge of the game to dominate the boards and passing in the attacking third. A brilliant feed from buddy to buddy saw Doan net one on a great pass from Langkow, who received a great pass from Whitney.
New goalie Mike Smith looks promising. I didn’t see the first goal (that hot dog wasn’t worth it), but I heard it was off of great movement and Smith couldn’t do much. Otherwise, he looked poised and ready to play, though he had a couple of awkward moments behind the net reminiscent of his rookie debut in Phoenix when still with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Thankfully, the Coyotes made a lot of roster moves on Thursday that saw 23 players assigned to the minors. With 35 players still on the roster, the team can build what they have always relied on: chemistry. With a long preseason road trip on the horizon, the guys will have plenty of bonding time, which is exactly what they need to shake off that preseason rust.