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Tocchet on loss to Bruins: ‘I’m kind of embarrassed for the fans’

Arizona Coyotes' head coach Rick Tocchet, center, gives instruction to players during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 in Calgary, Alberta. (John McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Rick Tocchet earned a reputation as a stand-up guy in his 18 NHL seasons. He also earned a reputation as one of the game’s toughest players.

Both character traits were on display after the Boston Bruins humbled the Coyotes 6-2 on Saturday at Gila River Arena. Boston blew open the game with three, second-period goals, dropping Arizona to 0-4-1, and squelching all that early-season excitement that was fueled by so much change.

There were defensive breakdowns, mental lapses, lazy plays and lapses in effort that you can read about here. When Tocchet reached the podium to address reporters after the game, he had seen enough to take off the kid gloves with his young team.

“I’m kind of embarrassed for the fans,” the Coyotes coach said. “You don’t want to babysit players but it’s just got to get harder around here. Whether it’s harder practices, whether you want to put curfews, all that baby stuff. I hate doing that stuff but if that’s what it takes, we might have to do it.

“Some coaches in the NHL, they skate the hell out of their guys and for whatever reason they come back the next night and they play well so maybe I’ve got to do that. Some guys want more than they’re giving right now and that’s something we’ve got to try to figure out quickly because we don’t want this thing to spiral out of control.”

Tocchet was hired in great part for his communication skills and his ability to forge relationships with players. It is clearly frustrating him that his message, his teachings and his trust in his players’ accountability is not producing results.

The Coyotes have played Tocchet’s push-it pace for stretches of every game this season. They haven’t sustained it in any of them.

“I don’t know why we can do it for certain parts of the game, the system looks good, and all of the sudden it doesn’t,” Tocchet said. “When pressure hits this team, for some reason, adversity, they just forget where to go and they just start running around. That’s the dumfounding thing for me. I don’t understand that.”

The Coyotes got off to a good start and grabbed a lead for the fourth time in five games when Mario Kempe redirected Anthony Duclair’s shot from the top of right circle past Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin at 15:31 of the first period.

In keeping with a bad recent habit, the Coyotes allowed the Bruins to tie the game on the next shift when Zdeno Chara’s shot took a fortunate bounce off David Pastrnak and in at 16:07.

The floodgates opened the following period.

Jake DeBrusk deflected David Krejci’s shot in at 1:39 of the second period to make it 2-1. The 6-foot-9 Chara somehow snuck to the deep slot undetected to knock in his own rebound at 5:03 to make it 3-1, and Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway at 16:21 to give the Bruins a 4-1 lead. On that play, Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was pinching at the blue line with the speedy and skilled Marchand behind him.

“I was just trying to get the puck and that’s just the way it goes,” said Ekman-Larsson, who is a team-worst minus-9. “We’re down 3-1 so you kind of look for some good breaks and it goes that way instead. I was cheating a little bit. You have to give the guy credit. He knew I was going to do that.”

Tocchet apologized to the fans for a second period he called “chaos,” with some players going “off the grid.” What it will take for the Coyotes to get back on the grid is a question Tocchet and his staff are still exploring.

“We’ve got some young guys here and we’ve got some veterans here that have got off to a bad start and it seems like we’ve got to collectively get everybody together here and just chip away,” said Tocchet, who lumped Ekman-Larsson in with that group. “You look down the bench and some guys are sucking wind. I don’t understand, after the last game why we’re sucking wind. Are we out of shape? Is there anxiety when there’s pressure because sometimes when you get anxiety you get tired. We’re just trying to put our finger on this.”

Life doesn’t get any easier for the Coyotes. They play a home-and-home series with the Dallas Stars, one of a handful of preseason Stanley Cup favorites. They host the Chicago Blackhawks, and then they hit the road for a five-game road trip through the three New York-area teams, Philadelphia and Detroit. If Tocchet can’t flip his players’ internal switch soon, the 2017-18 season could be lost in October.

“It just can’t continue this way,” Tocchet said. “The leadership group’s got to kind of bunker down a little bit, too. A couple guys aren’t playing well and they’ve got look at themselves right now. They really do.”


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