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Camp Confidential: Three for Keller, One for the Road

Offense leads the way, Ekman-Larsson "okay", final camp practice scheduled for Saturday

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Christian Dvorak succinctly summed up Friday's final training camp scrimmage:

"Kells was buzzing today."

Clayton Keller scored a hat trick to lift Team Red past Team White, 6-4.

Keller finished third on the team in regular season goals (17) and second in points (44). He and his linemates, Derek Stepan and Lawson Crouse, accounted for all six of Team Red's goals. Stepan scored twice.

Rick Tocchet noticed. 

"I thought (Stepan's) line with Crouse (and Keller) -- they were the best line out there. Keller was so dominant, and Step was great."

The third-line was impressive, but there was more, overall.

"I thought it was better today," Tocchet said. "I thought it was a lot better, but there are still some areas we have to improve on. There are some players I really liked today."

Phil Kessel scored, too, with a missile from the wing that wrung off the cross-bar and into the net past Darcy Kuemper.

"I loved Phil Kessel's two shots, they were bullets," Tocchet said. "The old Phil Kessel."

The 10 goals were the most scored in a camp scrimmage, though Friday's scrimmage featured an extended 15-minute periods. 

"I do like the goals, but I don't like the goals-against," Tocchet said. "Coaches are never happy, you know that."

Overall, Tocchet has seen steady progress, and singled out fourth-liners Vinnie Hinostroza and Christian Fischer as two examples.

"To me, it's about the improvements of guys day-to-day," he said. "I love that. When guys improve an inch every day, I'll take that all day long. The rollercoaster ride. So, that's a positive for our team. There are some guys who are starting to come inch-by-inch better and better."

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson left Friday's scrimmage early, after getting tangled up along the boards. He was held back for precautionary reasons and was in "pretty good spirits" after practice, Tocchet said. 

"I talked to him (after practice)," Tocchet said. "He feels okay, I don't think it's anything that bad."

Ekman-Larsson earned an assist in the second period of Friday's scrimmage when his shot from the left point was redirected by Crouse. 

"(Oliver) has had a really good camp," Tocchet said. "It's like any team, you can't afford one of your better players to go down. That's just the nature of the beast. You've got to scrimmage, and he was just playing hard. It was unfortunate, but I think he'll be fine. I think he'll be back no problem." 

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Saturday's training camp practice will be the final session before Edmonton.

The Coyotes held 11 sessions at Gila River Arena during the 13-day stretch. They will resume practicing Monday in Edmonton. 

Tocchet plans to keep it simple Saturday.

"Tomorrow we'll work on a couple of things in a practice setting," he said. "It'll be just like a regular practice. We might do some special teams. It'll be kind of a normal (skate) with some pace, with some pressure, things like that, maybe some video. We'll get the guys home so they can get ready for Sunday when we get on that flight. It'll be a productive day tomorrow."

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If Rick Tocchet knows one thing, it's that this Coyotes team knows how to hunker down on the road.

"We travel a lot," he said. "This team knows how to travel. So, that's the one good thing. We're travel tested. There's (some) anxiety. I've talked to coaches on other teams; the players want to know what to expect in the bubble city, how it's going to be. We're going to a place where it's fenced around for three or four blocks. There's only a couple restaurants you can go to. But I hear the NHL is doing a nice job with it. I think once we get there, the anxiety will be lessened because they'll know what to expect."

Players were briefed on the "secure zone" setting on Thursday, defenseman Jordan Oesterle said.

"It's kind of weird, we're getting ready to go into this little bubble in Edmonton," he said. "With the video call we had yesterday with the layout, it's kind of like an Olympic village. It's getting serious, and we leave in 48 hours, but we're excited."

Oesterle will be packing light. 

"I only brought one suitcase with me when I came back down (to Arizona from Michigan). So, it's just about packing up everything (into that) and heading out."

Christian Dvorak said: "In regard to packing, I actually haven't started at all yet. But I'm probably going to pack as light as possible. Maybe a suitcase and a backpack. I should probably start that tonight." 

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The Coyotes will play all their games at Rogers Place. 

"Our team plays well in Edmonton, we enjoy it," said Tocchet. "They've got great ice, a great building. It's a great place to go play. So, for our team, we usually play well in that arena. I don't know if that's true or not, but we'll see what happens." 

It is true. The Coyotes own a 16-3-4 record in Edmonton over the past decade.

"Personally, I enjoy that Edmonton rink," Oesterle said. "It's a nice rink, and obviously it's pretty new, but I don't think that will play too big of a factor. It depends on which games you have good games, or score, perform well. I think we've had pretty good success in that building in the last two years I've been here." 

Where did Tocchet perform best as a player, where everything seemed to always "click?" 

"For me when I played, it was Madison Square Garden," he said. "For whatever reason, I always had good games there. I just loved that arena. Some guys have that arena. Some arenas, somehow it just clicks for guys."

Dvorak won't miss a home ice advantage. He enjoys quieting the opposing fans.

"I really enjoy playing on the road," he said. "Especially in those hostile environments. You could name a couple (places). Vegas is fun to play in; Chicago; Montreal; New York, and there are a lot more, too. I think I just really enjoy playing in those hostile environments."

He may still get the chance to break some Nashville hearts, though it'll be done from afar.

Photo Credit [All}: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes

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