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Coyotes open 6-game road trip with logjam on defense

Arizona Coyotes' Michael Stone, right, argues a penalty with referee Gord Dwyer (19) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Kings defeated the Coyotes 6-2. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Coyotes assistant coach Jim Playfair was joking late in training camp about the overwhelming number of players dressed in black jerseys for a practice.

“I don’t have a drill for 11 defensemen,” Playfair quipped.

Playfair might want to check next door at University of Phoenix Stadium for some ideas from the Cardinals. Whatever he decides, Playfair’s proverbial good problem to have is growing more complex.

Injured defensemen Michael Stone (knee surgery) and Kevin Connauton (lower body) accompanied the team when it departed Monday on a six-game road trip through Ottawa, Montreal, New York (Islanders and Rangers), New Jersey and Philadelphia. So did Jakob Chychrun, who got a scare in Saturday’s season opener against the Flyers when he crashed feet first into the boards, but is none the worse for wear.

Connauton is expected to come off the injured non-roster list and be a part of the roster on Tuesday. He could play against the Senators. Stone could be ready to return to action in a few games, Tippett said.

To make room for Connauton, the Coyotes assigned veteran Zbynek Michalek to Tucson of the AHL on Monday — one week after placing him on waivers and opening up a 30-day window to re-assign him. The move left the roster at 22 players, but Connauton will bring it back to 23.

When Stone returns, the Coyotes could have nine defensemen on the roster (they lost Klas Dahlbeck to Carolina last week, via waivers): Stone, Connauton, Chychrun, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Connor Murphy, Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn, Jamie McBain and Jarred Tinordi, who is still suspended three more games but would be eligible to play on Sunday in New York against the Rangers.

How they mix and match all those bodies has yet to be determined. Playfair said the decision to send Michalek down was simply to get him some playing time. He still has a role with the NHL team and will likely be called upon in the event of injuries or game situations and matchups.

Assuming Connauton and Stone are ready on this trip, when Tinordi returns, he would be the logical player on whom the Coyotes must make a decision first. All nine of the remaining defensemen must clear waivers before being re-assigned to Tucson. That forces GM John Chayka to consider a number of options.

The Coyotes could waive someone and hope he clears. They could trade one or more defenseman (they are still in the market for a top-four, right-handed defenseman but Chayka admitted last week that he is not opposed to adding another forward).

They could also send Chychrun back to juniors. At 18, he is not AHL-eligible due to the NHL-CHL agreement.

“Within those three mechanisms there are a lot of options,” Chayka said, declining to elaborate.

Arizona could even carry eight defensemen for a while as the staff evaluates them, although Tippett is not fond of that arrangement because two players are generally sitting.

However it shakes out, it looks like it will happen soon.

NOTE: Tippett said there is a possibility center Dylan Strome will play his first NHL game on Tuesday in Ottawa after sitting out the season opener as a healthy scratch. … Left wing Jamie McGinn did not accompany the team on the road trip but could join the Coyotes at some point. He is still day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Coyotes at Senators

When: Tuesday, 4:30 PM
Where: Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN Radio 620 AM
Records: Arizona 1-0; Ottawa 2-0

Coyotes — LW Jamie McGinn (upper body) is day to day. D Michael Stone (knee) is on the injured non-roster list. Ottawa — LW Clarke MacArthur (concussion) is out indefinitely.

Scouting the Senators: Ottawa has one-goal wins over Toronto (5-4, OT) and Montreal (4-3, shootout). … Defenseman Erik Karlsson leads the team with a goal and four points. … Former Coyote Kyle Turris had the game-winning goal against Toronto on Wednesday and has two goals this season. … The Senators had a mostly quiet offseason but did trade center Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers for center Derick Brassard.

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