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SUNRISE, Florida — In Rick Tocchet’s first season as Coyotes coach, Arizona staggered to an 0-10-1 start from which it never recovered. Only Alex Goligoski’s overtime goal in Philadelphia, after a blown, two-goal lead in the final minute of regulation, kept the Coyotes from posting a winless October in which they went 1-11-1.
Christian Fischer was a part of that 2017-18 team that was 12-32-9 before it started tasting some success late in the season. He’d rather not relive that agony, but he did take some lessons from it.
“It’s hard on guys,” he said. “You start thinking about so much when you’re looking for that first one. It’s like when you get your first goal of your career. If you don’t get it right away and you get to game seven, eight, it’s tough on you in a lot of ways.
“You’ve got to learn from these types of games. We’ve got to take this video and we’ve got to learn what we did wrong. At the same time, we can’t be sitting here thinking, ‘We’ve got to get our first one.’ Just play our game. We’ve got to work our way out of this. It’s a lot of new faces but screw all the excuses. We have good players in that locker and we know how to play. We’ve got to put it together soon. It’s no fun playing and losing, losing, losing.”
The Coyotes didn’t help themselves by getting outshot 11-1 in the first period of a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Monday, but Clayton Keller’s breakaway goal at least had them even after one.
That’s when the wheels came off the bus. Carter Hutton did not return for the second period after sustaining a lower-body injury. Defenseman Conor Timmins (lower body) and forward Ryan Dzingel (upper body) exited the game in the second period with injuries. The Panthers scored their second power-play goal and eventually opened a 4-1 lead before the Coyotes staged an ill-fated rally that Anthony Duclair ended with an empty-net goal.
“I liked our attitude in the third,” coach André Tourigny said. “We had the right mind set. In the first two, for whatever reason, I don’t think we made enough plays with the puck. We turned the puck over too much. We gave up a lot of speed and a lot of momentum to Florida.”
The loss dropped Arizona to 0-5-1, tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the worst record in the NHL. Here are five takeaways from the Coyotes’ visit to South Florida.
Injury bug strikes
Carter Hutton’s best start as a Coyote was cut short by a lower-body injury that he suffered in the first period. Hutton stopped the first 10 shots that he faced, but Joe Thornton’s power-play goal with 18.2 seconds left in the first period came on a rebound after Hutton stopped San Reinhart to make it 1-1.
There was nothing noticeable in Hutton’s movements after that shot, but he did not return and Karel Vejmelka replaced him in goal.
“It’s too bad because he really was strong for us in the first period,” said Tourigny, who did not have an update on Hutton’s condition after the game. “Huts is a good teammate and everybody cheered for him. Everybody wants him to play better and to play more. Everybody was happy about his performance. Everybody wants to fight for him so it’s too bad.”
In the second period, the Coyotes also lost defenseman Conor Timmins on this big hip check from Radko Gudas that precipitated a fight between Gudas and Ryan Dzingel.
They may have lost Dzingel in the fight that ensued.
There is no word yet on how long the three players will be out, but the Coyotes recalled defenseman Cam Dineen and goalie Ivan Prosvetov from Tucson of the American Hockey League. Both players will join the team in Tampa, where it will face the Lightning on Thursday after a day off the ice on Tuesday and a practice on Wednesday.
Dysin Mayo was the extra defenseman who joined the team on the trip. Forwards Travis Boyd and Antoine Roussel are also on the trip. Both were healthy scratches on Monday.
The Panthers’ middle-of-the-pack power play converted two of three chances against the Coyotes and that special-teams edge was the difference in the game.
The PK, directed by new assistant Mario Duhamel, has been a sore subject for the Coyotes. Through six games, it has allowed nine goals on 14 opponents’ chances. That is by far the worst success rate in the NHL at 35.7 percent. The nine goals account for 31 percent of the goals (29) that Arizona has allowed this season.
“We need to find a solution on the PK,” Tourigny said. “We need to block shots. We need to be more aggressive and better. Too many shots on net.
“There’s other things. Too many cross-ice passes; they pass the puck through our box. We need to be more assertive. We need to have more awareness in our PK.”
You can bet that unit will be a point of emphasis in Wednesday’s practice.
Fischer’s master class
I won’t bother editorializing about Fischer’s postgame interview. Just listen to the detailed, thoughtful and heartfelt answers that he gave to every question that Bally Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh and I asked him.
Fischer didn’t win the 2019-20 Shane Doan Good Guy Award simply because he is a good guy. He’s engaged in every part of the process, and that includes his media availability. It’s not easy talking after a sixth straight loss. This is what a pro sounds like.
Homecoming, Part II
At last count, Boca Raton product Jakob Chychrun had about 30 family members and friends planning to attend Monday’s game, including his 90-year-old maternal grandmother, Elaine Garfield.
“It’s a pretty wide age range,” Chychrun said, smiling. “Every time I am here I get those little reminders, those little memories. I like looking up at where our season tickets always were and then having my family and friends and loved ones saying they are coming to watch. It’s always cool. It doesn’t get old.”
Pembroke Pines product Shayne Gostisbehere’s contingent wasn’t quite as large, but his 78-year-old grandfather, Denis Brodeur, guessed about a dozen well-wishers would be “scattered all over the place in the arena,” with plans to sit by the goal where the Coyotes shot two out of three periods in hopes of watching some goals (they saw all three).
“I couldn’t be prouder of that boy,” Brodeur said. “I think of the hours that he put in and everything else he did to get here, and then the things that he went through in Philly.
“I know that he was so happy when he found out that he was going to Arizona. The minute he stepped foot over there, he called his mom and texted me and said, ‘Man, this is great. I love it here.” I think it’s a new chance for him.”
Remembering Coyotes proponent Grant Woods
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods died of a heart attack on Saturday at age 67. Why do I mention this in a Coyotes story? Because more people should understand just how critical a role that Woods played on the legal counsel team that helped the IceArizona ownership broker a deal to buy the team, and to broker a deal with the City of Glendale.
Bally Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh noted those facts in this tribute, and I was also well aware of Wood’s role at the time.
“I was first introduced to Grant back in 2009 when Daryl Jones and I were first taking a run at buying the Coyotes,” said IceArizona partner and former Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc, now with the Ottawa Senators. “He was the guy that shepherded us through a number of aspects even before 2013 when another dearly departed individual, George Gosbee, got involved. We had kind of bounced around a couple of different deals with a bunch of different potential partners.
“The one thing that was constant was Grant was at my side, not just as an advisor, but personally, as someone who was guiding me through it all. Grant was kind of the glue that kept us all together. When we got the deal done, there were only a couple of outsiders that were at the press conference at Jobing.com Arena and Grant was one of them because he was a deal architect.”
LeBlanc credits Woods with helping him learn the Valley landscape.
“He was so well known throughout the state and throughout all the power corridors,” LeBlanc said. “He was the one who was making all these introductions.”
Among those introductions were Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall, concert promoter Danny Zelisko and Senator John McCain.
“People say he was a lawyer, but he was so much more than that. He was a dealmaker and he was a door opener,” LeBlanc said. “I will remember him as a guy that always made me laugh, but was always there when I needed advice. Looking at social media and seeing the accolades and the comments coming in from all these people that I didn’t even know he was close with, it’s amazing how many people he touched. But that’s one of the things I loved about him. He wasn’t a name dropper, but everyone knew him and he knew everybody. He was just genuine. He was the kind of guy that you want to live your life like.”
Woods was a giant in the state of Arizona; one of the genuine icons that the state has produced. If you haven’t read azcentral columnist E.J. Montini’s piece on him, please do. It’s a spectacular piece of writing, and a fitting tribute to a man who impacted the state like few others have and ever will.