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On the one hand, Coyotes coaches and players will tell you that no single nonconference game is more important than another nonconference game. On the other hand, coaches and players love the idea of getting off to a good start. It helps build confidence. It helps build a points cushion when the inevitable tough times set in, and it helps when pushing for the playoffs.
By now, everybody knows about the Thanksgiving cutoff in the NHL. As odd as it seems to be talking playoffs after the season’s first month and a half, about three-quarters of the teams in playoff position at American Thanksgiving will make it to the postseason. This number has held relatively consistent since the 2005-06 season when the NHL came out of a season-canceling lockout.
In 2009-10, the Coyotes won six of their first eight games and went 13-9-1 out of the gate on their way to a franchise record 107 points. In 2011-12, they were 10-6-3 on their way to a Pacific Division title and a Western Conference Final run.
So while a good start may not be the be-all, end-all for NHL playoff hopes, it matters.
The Coyotes won’t have it easy at the start. They open the season with four games on the road; the first three of them against 2023 playoff teams in the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and New York Islanders. They finish in St. Louis against a fellow Central Division team.
“It’s a huge trip,” Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse said. “But we just have to focus on game one against the Devils. You can’t think too far ahead, but when we play our brand of good hockey, I like our chances.
“Anything’s possible, especially at the start of the season. Some teams may not be ready to go right away. The Devils are on a back-to-back (New Jersey hosts Detroit on Thursday) so we can use that to our advantage a little bit by getting on them early to try and get a lead and play with it. They’re a very skilled team. They have a lot of high-end talent so we’ve got to obviously be on our toes and play good defensive hockey and capitalize on our chances.”
If you’re wondering how the Coyotes perform historically against the teams on this trip, here’s a look at how they have fared on the road against each of these opponents.
|New York Rangers||12-25-2-4||2-6-2|
|New York Islanders||11-23-8-0||1-9|
|St. Louis Blues||30-39-11-4||6-3-1|
Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong is using this trip as a gauge of progress.
“We weren’t very good on the road last year,” he said of the team’s league-worst 7-25-9 road record. “That’s one of the improvements I’d like to see with our players is to have a better approach to the game and have more success on the road. There’s a difference between our numbers and I’m not talking about playing numbers. I’m talking about hits and a certain commitment level on the road vs. at home. There’s a way that you’ve got to play on the road to have success, so I think we can do a better job of that.”
Coyotes forward Matias Maccelli was asked recently what he is focusing on this season after a injury-shortened rookie season in which he finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting with 11 goals and 49 points in 64 games, but with just 61 shots on goal, which ranked 17th on the team.
“Just getting a chemistry going with our line,” he said. “It’s been great with Bjugy and Crouser again, and maybe I shoot a couple more pucks this year and maybe that will help me score a few more. The guys have been telling me to shoot a little more. They’re not expecting the pass all the time anymore. It gives me a little freedom to shoot it from time to time.
“It’s my second year. Guys in the league are starting to know what I’m trying to do; trying to pass the puck always. So I’ve definitely got to start shooting a little more. They’re not maybe expecting that so it’s a good add to my game for sure.”
I asked Armstrong about Dylan Guenther’s assignment to the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League.
“There’s a couple of things in his game that I think he can improve in the minors,” Armstrong said. “In open space, he’s an NHL player. One of his strengths is his thought process, his hands and his hockey sense is top level. But in this league, there’s also a component of skating and strength. I think there’s a couple of things that he can do at the American League level that would benefit him in those areas, along with working with our development staff.
“The NHL game is hard. It’s a big man’s game out there. I believe he’s not far off, but I believe there’s some work to be done still.”
- Dave Lockett will be the Coyotes’ new VP of Brand PR & Communications. He replaces Rich Nairn, who will be departing the team at the end of October after 27 years with the franchise. Lockett was previously senior director of public relations for UFC.
- Coyotes coach André Tourigny on defenseman Travis Dermott, who made the team after signing a one-year, two-way contract in July for $800,000: “I did not know him as well. He did not play a lot last year. I did not know what to expect. He’s been really, really solid for us. He made a case for himself; maybe one of if not the best D-man during our camp. He was really good. I think it was a really positive training camp for him.”
- Dermott and defenseman Josh Brown should both be ready for the Coyotes’ opener in New Jersey after sitting out recently with minor injuries.
Top photo of Nick Bjugstad vs. the Devils via Getty Images
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