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Coyotes looking for consistency during second-half play

 

New Jersey Devils v Arizona Coyotes

Like most of us, Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet formulated his new year’s list of resolutions.

Of course, all coaches want wins, success for players and joy for the fans. This is easier said than done.

At this time last year, the Coyotes were in the throes of dire straits and showed only 10 wins in their initial 42 games. Now under Tocchet’s second year behind the bench, the Coyotes nearly doubled their win production, but there could be red flags on the horizon.

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For one, Tocchet orchestrated a strong second-half turnaround last season, and goalie Antti Raanta led the charge, Now, Raanta is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury and Tocchet’s list of resolutions now include a basic desire that coaches have for all players.

Over the final half of the season, Tocchet wants his players to be aggressive to the net and take direct shots on goal. The stickwork moves around defensemen and creative passes are not part of Tocchet’s blueprint for the second half. Should the Coyotes employ his instructions, they could have an opportunity to sneak into the postseason. For that to happen, there needs to be a clear focus.

“We have battled many injuries as a team and had some inconsistency,” said Arizona forward Alex Galchenyuk. “That has to be the difference for us going through the next half of the season. We need to find a consistency in our game and stick with it. That’s the most important thing.”

With 12 players either done for this season or remaining injured, Tocchet wants his players on the same page. If a player is recalled from the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners to fill in for an injured player, Tocchet wants that player to immediately step into the role of the player he replaced.

That may not be easy to achieve. Given the style and role for each player, Tocchet told reporters after an early January practice there needs to be a commitment to consistency. That commitment must extend for a full 60-minutes and the length of the 200-foot rink.

“I’m still figuring out from last year which guys can play under this pressure and which guys work hard every night,” Tocchet said. “I like the fact that we don’t give in and are trying to get some consistency in the way we’re playing. We need 21 guys every night. You can’t be good every night, but you can’t play less than average.”

Over the first half of the season, the consistency which players and Tocchet hope for in the coming weeks was absent.

In the first 42 games of the season, the Coyotes had only three winning streaks, and these resulted in a five-game winning streak (Oct. 23-Nov. 5), a three-game streak (Nov. 27-Dec. 4) and back-to-back wins on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23. During a 14-game span, from Dec. 6-Jan. 4, the Coyotes went 3-10-1 and at their halfway mark, only Philadelphia, Ottawa, St. Louis and Los Angeles had fewer standings points.

If the Coyotes are to leapfrog over teams and strive for a playoff spot, Galchenyuk could be an important factor. Brought over from Montreal in a celebrated trade for Max Domi, Galchenyuk was expected to carry a significant offensive responsibility.

“Galchenyuk scored in front of the net (on Jan 6 against the Rangers) and that’s something he has to do consistently, not every once in a while,” Tocchet said. “When Alex is playing well, he’s going north. He was in front of the net and that’s where he has to go.”

Through the first 42 games, Galchenyuk scored but seven goals and compared to a 30-goal season with the Habs (2014-15) and a 20-goal season the year before, Tocchet hopes that the former first-round pick will provide the consistency and production this team needs over the final half of the season.

Clayton Keller photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Jan. 21, 2019)