On Tuesday night, the Phoenix Coyotes dropped an 8-4 decision at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. While the final score was disappointing, the Coyotes did come away from the contest with several positives to build on.
"We would have liked to have seen a different score, but that will come," said Mike Rupp. "I do think we played with a real strong work ethic and that is important. You can correct the mistakes, but your work ethic has to be there and ours was."
Following a opening period that saw Los Angeles holding a 1-0 lead, the Coyotes gave a glimpse of the exciting play the club is capable of when Rupp took a pass from captain Shane Doan and lifted a backhand into the Kings net, just 27 seconds into the second period.
"My line-mates were forechecking hard and as soon as they applied pressure, they (Los Angeles) were turning the puck over," said Rupp. "Doan got the puck up high and snuck it into me down low. It was just a product of our hard work out there."
After a pair of goals by Los Angeles, the Coyotes again cut the lead to one when Ladislav Nagy raced in from the left side and beat Kings' netminder Mathieu Garon high to the strong side for his second preseason goal in two games.
As the Coyotes entered the third period down by a pair of goals, it was apparent that there was no quitting in this team and Phoenix roared back with scores from Doan and Mike Ricci to tie the game at 4-4.
"I think we worked hard tonight," said Ricci, "we just didn't work smart and there is a fine line there. The bottom line is we need to work smarter and that is what we'll do."
Despite four unanswered goals by the Kings in the third period, the Coyotes still know that they have better hockey to be played and at the end of the day, this was just a preseason game.
"It was frustrating for sure," said defenseman Keith Ballard. "It's not the outcome we wanted, but we know we can play better and good teams put night's like this behind them and that is what we will do."
The Coyotes will return to the rink tomorrow as they prepare for a weekend road trip with games in Anaheim (Friday) and Los Angeles (Sunday).
GRETZKY FOCUSES ON POSITIVES
As Wayne Gretzky made his coaching debut on Tuesday, he was particularly impressed with his team's effort and confident in their potential.
"I think we played hard tonight," said Gretzky. "The team competed all night, there were just some details that we didn't handle properly and that just takes a little time."
Just as Gretzky admitted to being a little nervous standing behind the bench for the first time, he recognized that there was some added tension on the entire team Tuesday.
"I felt like the guys were a little nervous at times," said Gretzky. "I think they all wanted to do well and get a win tonight. I realize it is going to take everyone a little time to get used to this situation, but we have a strong group of guys here and it won't be a problem."
When asked if he had any concerns about starting goaltender Curtis Joseph based on Tuesday's game, Gretzky quickly dismissed the issue.
"This is what the exhibition season is for," said Gretzky. "We have some guys in here like (Keith) Ballard, who are trying to establish themselves and we have guys like Curtis who are getting their game back after a long break. I am not worried at all about Curtis.
"It's the easiest thing in the world to blame the goaltender," Gretzky continued, "but it is not Curtis' fault we lost 8-4. It was a team loss and it is important to remember that we are going to win as a team and lose as a team, not as individuals."
While the Coyotes didn't come away with a win on Tuesday, Gretzky pointed out the importance of the game in the overall scheme of things.
"This is not a downer," said Gretzky. "It is not like we lost a game-seven. It was just an exhibition."
Following the end of regulation on Tuesday, the Coyotes and Kings took part in a three-man shootout, which Los Angeles won 2-0 on goals by Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
The three shooters who took part in the shootout for Phoenix were Tyson Nash, Mike Ricci and Mike Rupp.
Coyote forward Mike Leclerc left Tuesday's game following the first period after suffering a minor groin pull.
"Based on our recent history with this injury on our team, we just decided to shut him down tonight and be safe," said Gretzky.
Leclerc is currently listed as day-to-day.
In what turned out to be a very physical contest, Tyson Nash led all Coyotes with five hits in the game. Denis Gauthier and Jason Chimera each recorded four hits as well.
Phoenix defenseman David Tanabe was in the line-up for the first time this preseason on Tuesday night. In his first game back, Tanabe logged a team leading 23 minute and 23 seconds of ice time.
The Coyotes next game will take place on Friday night as the club travels to Arrowhead Pond to face the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.