After solid first half, Coyotes ‘want to keep it going’
As the critical second half of the NHL season descends, don’t ask Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet to think outside of the box.
For Tocchet and his band of intrepid ice warriors, their collective focus going forward is one-dimensional – to focus on the task at hand.
Don’t ask Tocchet to watch the out-of-town scoreboard or to think how to separate his Coyotes from the rest of the Stanley Cup playoff-contending teams. The margin for error is so slight, the boundary for any mistake so precise that any diversionary tactic, Tocchet points out, is clearly harmful to the long-term goal of contending for a Stanley Cup playoff berth.
As the Coyotes swing into the second half of the season and a possible spot in post-season play, there are factors, such as the play of contending teams, that will clearly influence their fortunes.
One way to exorcise such demons is make sure Arizona’s home record is as pristine as possible. Over the first half, the Coyotes were marginal at best on home ice and produced a far better record away from Gila River Arena.
Over their first 21 home games, the Coyotes went 10-10-1. At the same time, the club finished a New Year’s holiday break with a three-game winning streak and a clear boost of energy.
After defeating Philadelphia 6-2 in early January, forward Lawson Crouse explained the value of the winning streak and the importance to dominate play at home.
“We want to create a tough atmosphere to play and this homestand is just the beginning for us,” Crouse said. “We want to make this a tough building for opponents and when we put in put the effort like we did during this homestand, it’s huge for our confidence.
“With the character in the room, we know to keep it up and not to cheat.”
While the Coyotes continue to flirt with first place in the Pacific Division and playoff position within the Western Conference, their companions in this chase include St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, Vegas, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Calgary. Lurking closely are Chicago, Nashville and San Jose.
All of which should keep the Coyotes on the top of the game each night. That is, if they skate with blinders firmly affixed, heighten their concentration level and play mistake-free hockey.
“If you want to be successful, you have to win at home,” Tocchet pointed out. “Going forward, we can only worry about ourselves. You can’t have the long losing streaks and have to establish something at home. I always believe you can’t worry about other teams. You can’t look at the standings. If you start to look beyond your game, or looking at other teams, you forget about your game.”
If the Coyotes are to create some separation and begin to stack wins together, the top line pitting Clayton Keller at left wing, Carl Soderberg at center and Nick Schmaltz on the right side, could carry the club.
Schmaltz led the club in scoring over the initial half of the season and Keller, who recorded three two-goal games from Dec. 12-Jan.4, is poised to top his career-best of 23 goals set during his rookie season two years ago.
“I’m shooting the puck more and moving my feet,” Keller said. “When I do that, I’m a dangerous player. Also, our line has a great deal of chemistry. We can help each other and we want to keep that up. We want to make a difference each and every night. With Schmaltz, he is such a smart player, and he can shoot the puck, too. He’s always looking for me and I’m looking for him as well.
“We just want to keep it going.”
— Mark Brown
(Jan. 27, 2020)