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COYOTES FOCUS ON STRONG START

by Staff Writer / Arizona Coyotes
By: Chad Lynch

Photo Credit: Norm Hall

An NHL regular season is nothing short of grueling. With 82 contests spread over the course of six-and-a-half months, there is no such thing as an unimportant game. Yet with the start of the Phoenix Coyotes 2006-07 season rapidly approaching, the team understands that getting off to a good start in not a luxury, but rather a necessity.

"It's huge for us," said Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky. "I told the players today that it's amazing the type of season teams who get off to 8-2 or 9-1 starts (have). You just seem to roll along and really get into a groove.

"If you start 5-5 or 4-6, you really have to battle all year long."

A good start would not only provide the Coyotes with an early lead in the standings, but also take some of the pressure off when mid-season obstacles arise.

"In the middle part of the season you can have some key injuries and have a tough couple of weeks without it effecting you," said Gretzky.

The Coyotes are certainly poised to have a strong start. On paper, the team has arguably their most talented roster in franchise history and is in the most impressive physical condition in recent memory.

"We really feel we are a much better team than we were last year," said Gretzky. The new guys have come in here in great shape and the veterans are in better condition than they were last year."

Phoenix will open the season with a pair of home game before heading out on a four-game road trip to start the season.

LARAQUE TO SKATE TUESDAY
Coyotes left wing Georges Laraque did not skate on Monday, but could still be in the line-up on Thursday against the New York Islanders.

Laraque suffered a minor groin strain in the Saturday's pre-season finale, but is close to returning to the ice.

"He felt like he could go today, but I gave him the one more day off," said Gretzky. "He will skate tomorrow and if he's ok, he'll play Thursday.

SJOSTROM IMPROVING
Fredrik Sjostrom returned to practice on Monday after suffering a bruised shoulder during pre-season play.

"He won't play in the first two games, but he'll be ready to play next Monday in Columbus," said Gretzky.

ROSTER MOVES
On Monday, the Coyotes waived right wing Tyson Nash. In 119 career games with the Coyotes, Nash recorded 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) and 194 penalty minutes.

"I told him (Nash) that we understood what he's done for this organization and what he's meant to us," said Gretzky. "We told him to take all the time he needs and that we'd like to keep him within the organization."

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