Arizona Coyotes see lots of special teams in preseason win over Kings

Sep 18, 2018, 11:10 PM | Updated: 11:53 pm
Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj (31) makes a pad save on a shot by Arizona Coyotes center Alex...
Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj (31) makes a pad save on a shot by Arizona Coyotes center Alex Galchenyuk (17) during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Preseason hockey should be taken with a grain of salt for a number of reasons. Still, the Coyotes picked up two wins in a single night and gave fans in Arizona a good look at some special teams possibilities.

The Arizona Coyotes’ home team in a pair of split-squad games on Tuesday night beat the LA Kings at Gila River Arena, 4-2, while the away team at the Staples Center beat the other LA Kings squad, 4-3.

The Coyotes scored three of their four goals in Glendale on the power play and also took 10 penalties, forcing the team to deploy the penalty kill on numerous occasions — including one 5-on-3. Ironically, while the power play was effective, Oliver Ekman-Larsson said the team actually had not spent much time working on the power play in training camp yet.

“To me, it looked pretty good,” the new captain said of the 5-on-4 unit. “We were moving the puck, we said before the first power play there just keep it simple and move the puck around. I thought we did that. We got a little bit too fancy the last two power plays. But it can only get better from there.”

One caveat to making assumptions about the special teams units on Tuesday was that the Coyotes had several NHL roster players in Los Angeles, not available off the bench for head coach Rick Tocchet when deploying different units. For example, Michael Grabner — a known penalty killer — was in LA.

Still, Tocchet said players can be — and are — evaluated on an individual basis.

“[I look at] the way certain guys play under the concepts that we have here,” Tocchet said. “I look at some characteristics of some guys in certain situations. And then [assistant coaches John MacLean and Scott Allen] will watch — and I’ll watch the game in LA — but they’re good coaches, they’ll give me an evaluation of the guys there.”

Three of Arizona’s four goals came from newcomers Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk had two goals, one at even strength and one on the power play. His even-strength goal came on a backhanded no-look pass from Oliver Ekman-Larsson (who had three assists) as Galchenyuk skated into the slot.

Galchenyuk fired it in, showing off what Tocchet would refer to as his “high-level shot.”

“For me it was something new, playing with a guy like [Ekman-Larsson],” he said. “But for him it’s his every-game job. I’m really looking forward to keep playing with him and he’s fun to play with.”

The first group on the ice for the Coyotes’ second power play was comprised of Ekman-Larsson, Galchenyuk, Panik, Keller and Derek Stepan. Penalty-killers included Ekman-Larsson (who led the team in ice time with 23:44), Jason Demers, Barrett Hayton, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Robbie Russo, among others.

Hinostroza, meanwhile, scored his first goal in a Coyotes sweater, assisted by Clayton Keller and Jason Demers.

“I think with every day of practice, every game, every preseason game, it’s been great to get to know these guys every day a little bit better,” Hinostroza said.

A few Coyotes he knows well already, including his former Blackhawks teammates Hjalmarsson, Panik and Antti Raanta. He also grew up with Christian Fischer and Christian Dvorak in Illinois.

“It’s a little easier when you’ve already played with some of the guys,” he said. “We played with [Stepan] tonight and he makes the game so easy, so smart and so simple. Every time he got back to the bench, he’s always positive, telling you what you can do better.”

Nonetheless, Tuesday was a first look at what may — or may not — be the special teams combinations once the season kicks off on Oct. 4. Tocchet said he expects the power play could be bolstered this year by the offseason acquisitions, but more work on that in practice is forthcoming.

“Almost every day now,” he said. “We have sixty-some guys [in camp], so it’s hard. Actually, we got it in the other day, actually yesterday. So it kind of helped out, but we’ll start to go more and more on it, for sure.”

The Coyotes’ have four preseason games left, the next one on Saturday at home against the Ducks.

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