Arizona Coyotes trying to create space in midst of scoring drought
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes flew to Minneapolis on Monday ahead of their Tuesday night contest against the Wild, the first of four games on the team’s first multi-game road trip of the 2018-19 season.
It’s an important trip, one the team entered with a record of 1-3-0 after suffering three shutouts in four games to start the season.
Head coach Rick Tocchet said one of the problems he saw with his team on offense was players would “accept it” when they were covered by another player.
“There’s a couple guys, when they’re checked, they’ve got to get loose. You’ve got to fight for your space,” he said.
“There’s times where you might have to put the brakes on, you might have to spin off a guy, you might have to actually push off a guy and I think that’s an individual thing,” Tocchet said. “Team-wise, watching video, there’s long stretch where Buffalo never had a chance and we had point-blank chances. It’s one of those things. Hopefully a guy can put that one in. There’s no magic to it.”
The Coyotes have just two goals through 12 periods of play this year, plus one overtime period. Their only win came in a shootout at Anaheim, where Dylan Strome and Brad Richardson each netted a goal to set up a shootout victory.
Ironically, entering play on Wednesday, Arizona ranks sixth in the NHL in shots per games played with 36.5 and has allowed the fewest shots per game in the entire league at a rate of 23.3.
“We had three people in front of the net against Buffalo [on Saturday] and it hit a pad and went the other way,” Tocchet said. “We have to some kind of a layering system, and I think that happens, that’s a hockey IQ play. You can’t tell a player when to go and when not to go, you have to see the play develop. And I think that’s something we’ve got to get better at.”
Arizona was a team that entered the season with some expectations of success this year after it got hot down the stretch in 2017-18, but the slow start thus far is building a deficit for any chances of contention or relevance late in the season.
“You can’t get down. When you get down, it makes everything worse, your stick tightens right up, everyone’s playing so tight,” forward Lawson Crouse said. “You’ve got to stick with it. It’s a process, we all know that, and once we get a couple here we’re going to start rolling. It’s about learning how to win, and once we get a couple wins and get rolling, I think we’re still a really good team. So we’ve just got to keep working.”
The team’s four-game road trip itinerary looks like this:
Oct. 16 at Minnesota (1-2-2)
Oct. 18 at Chicago (3-0-2)
Oct. 20 at Winnipeg (3-2-0)
Oct. 23 at Columbus (3-2-0)
The Coyotes’ lines changed coming out of the win over Anaheim two games ago, as Clayton Keller’s pinch-hit assignment at second-line center was put on pause so he could move back to the top line with Derek Stepan and Richard Panik. The second line was re-organized to group Crouse and Dylan Strome with Christian Fischer.
“I actually like Crouser’s game,” Tocchet said. “He’s gotten better every game, he’s fit in that role. He’s got some half-decent hands that he’s been working on. He’s done a nice job. Stromer’s just got to be careful that he doesn’t get complacent, he’s got to make sure — he’s got to fight every game. That line, they can give us some energy.”
Crouse said during the preseason this year that his extensive time spent with the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners last year — often playing on a top line with fellow first-round picks Strome and Nick Merkley — allowed him to gain confidence and play with the puck more.
“I think I’m playing well and obviously there’s still room to grow and still room to learn. Just working. I’m a big believer that everything you do in practice translates into the game,” Crouse said. “Just trying to work as hard as I can in practice and, like you said, hold onto pucks and make plays and then go from there.”
Crouse had 15 goals and 17 assists in 51 games for Tucson last season. He also appeared in 11 NHL games, a significant drop-off from his 72 games played with the Coyotes in 2016-17.
“Obviously for me I like to watch the big power forwards, see what they can do,” he said. “Wayne Simmonds is probably one of the best guys in front of the net. He gets 20 goals a year just in front of the net. So whenever I’m watching the Philly highlights I just try and see what he does around the net and hopefully can follow up with a goal or two.”
A line of Crouse, Strome and Fischer is a couple games old, and far from permanent. Things can change quickly in the NHL, and the eventual return of Alex Galchenyuk from a lower-body injury adds to that equation. But for now, Crouse said he likes playing with Strome and Fischer, the former he described as a really smart hockey player and the latter he described as a hard worker with speed.
The lineups in practice on Monday looked how they did in the game against Buffalo, but Tocchet hinted that defenseman Jordan Oesterle could get back in the lineup soon. Additionally, forward Josh Archibald — who has yet to play this season after starting the year on injured reserve — is available to play on the road trip.
–Galchenyuk (lower-body) skated with the Coyotes in practice for the first time on Monday in a non-contact jersey, and was cleared for contact on Tuesday, a team source confirmed to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station as first reported by The Athletic.
–Forward Christian Dvorak suffered a setback in his recovery from a lower-body injury and was expected be re-evaluated by a doctor. He has been on IR since the season started.
–Jakob Chychrun (lower-body) continues to skate with the Coyotes in practice.