Tocchet ‘encouraged’ by Sunday’s Coyotes practice with season looming

Jan 10, 2021, 7:25 PM | Updated: 7:34 pm
Arizona Coyotes left wing Lawson Crouse (67) celebrates his goal against against the San Jose Shark...
Arizona Coyotes left wing Lawson Crouse (67) celebrates his goal against against the San Jose Sharks with Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski (33) and Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel (81) as Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) skates past during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 6-3. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After a condensed offseason without preseason games, the Arizona Coyotes are doing what they can in-house to prepare for the season-opener coming Thursday.

Head coach Rick Tocchet feels a bit better about the turnaround after Sunday’s practice. Is the team ready for the season?

“Coaches never think they’re ready, right? But I was encouraged by today’s practice,” he said. “I saw some stuff out there, some creativity, I saw some goals and I saw some hustle, some chirping. And that’s what we need.”

He said keeping the momentum on Monday will be important in assessing where the team stands.

Arizona played a scrimmage on Saturday and the team did a game review Sunday while Tocchet continued to evaluate how his lines will look. The coach said he was considering following this with a controlled scrimmage on Monday, that way he could fix the mistakes the players make in real-time.

“I can script the situations, let them play, then stop it whether I have to teach or not, then we’ll go onto the next line instead of just having a scrimmage,” he said.

“There was some mistakes out there and I thought that instead of me stopping the play, the other day we had a full scrimmage, I think tomorrow’s a teaching day with a scrimmage.”

Goalie Antti Raanta said that the scrimmage Saturday helped the team get closer to a season mindset. He said it had been a long wait over the break filled with uncertainty about what the season would look like.

“When we have those scrimmages and when you have all the guys on the ice like that, you start feeling that the games are coming soon,” Raanta said.

“It’s almost like you’re just waiting to get to that first game and then you go from there. There are still a couple things that we want to work on and I think today was a really good step forward again with our practice.”

Tocchet emphasized this.

“It was probably our best practice,” he said.

The Coyotes, four days away from their opener against the San Jose Sharks, will try to keep this energy Monday before a day off Tuesday and then one final tune-up.

Then, the 2021 season is underway.

Power play work

Tocchet spoke about a specific area of play the team needs work: power plays, and keeping intense pressure during them.

“Power plays are about hard work, getting loose pucks, digging up with battle – that’s probably our weakest part of our power plays, is we don’t come up with the next play,” he said.

Last season, the Coyotes were in the bottom half of the league in power play goals (41, 19th in NHL) and percentage (19.2%, 18th in NHL), according to ESPN.

More focus on getting to loose pucks and not flailing out after the first couple possessions of the play could elevate the team.

“You rarely score in the first 20 seconds of a power play. It’s usually in that minute range because the PK’s tired. PK guys will tell you, when they’re tired, it’s tough to be aggressive,” Tocchet said.

“That loose puck is just as important as scoring a goal. You gotta get those loose pucks.”

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Tocchet ‘encouraged’ by Sunday’s Coyotes practice with season looming