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Goaltending Tandem Will Be Key to Success in Condensed Season

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE – The Coyotes are scheduled to play a 48-game season over a span of 98 days.

Seven times they will play games on back-to-back nights. In all but one of those instances they will play the second game of the back-to-back in a different city than the first game.

That’s a lot of hockey, and a lot of work for starting goalie Mike Smith.

“We expect Mike to play really well but no matter how well he plays he’s still going to need some nights off and that’s where Jason LaBarbera comes in,” Goaltenders Coach Sean Burke said Tuesday after the team’s second day of training camp. “With such a compact schedule, whatever games Jason starts will be huge starts and we’re going to need him to play well.”

Jason LaBarbera. Photo by Norm Hall.

LaBarbera played in 19 games last season as Smith’s backup and posted a 3-9-3 record and a 2.54 goals-against average.

“Jason has been a real big contributor for this team,” Burke said. “Last year his numbers weren’t where he’d like them to be but he still was able to win some big games for us when we needed him. If you look at what he’s done here during his whole time with this organization, he’s pitched us some real good games. We have a lot of confidence in Jason.”

LaBarbera’s workload likely will be heavier than last season because of the large number of games being played in the 14-week season.

“Back-to-backs aren’t usually the toughest situations for a starting goalie, it’s more about the stretches of three games in four nights or four games in six nights,” Burke said. “That’s really where you rely more on your second goalie. You’re Number 1 goalie can do a lot of the back-to-backs, but when you get into those longer stretches you need your other guy to come in and win games for you.”

LaBarbera said he’s aware he may be asked to play a bigger role in such a condensed season.

“I’ve looked at the schedule and my plan is to be as ready to play as impossible whenever I get the call,” LaBarbera said. “I don’t know how many games I’m going to get but I’m guessing I will get a couple more. We’ll just go day to day and see what happens.”


Photo by Norm Hall.

• Like other NHL teams, the Coyotes have incorporated their logo into the center ice red line for the 2012-13 season.

(Look to the right to check it out.)

• The Coyotes will not practice on Wednesday as they did on Monday and Tuesday. Instead, they will play an intra-squad scrimmage at Arena at 6 p.m.

With no exhibition games on the schedule this season, Head Coach Dave Tippett has instructed his staff and the players to prepare for and treat the scrimmage as if it were an exhibition game.

“It's something that we think is important,” Tippett said. “I believe we’re going to add some more players (on Wednesday) to make it a little more realistic. We’ll have three lines on both sides and five ‘d’ on both sides, (and) we’ll have referees and try to do it as much like a game as we can to get them in that game mode.”

Asked what he’ll be looking for during the game, Tippett said: “We’ll be watching for a little bit of chemistry, but we’ll also watch for pace and the details of the game.”

Tippett said the format of the game is still being decided but it likely will feature three periods that will last 15 minutes each.

The public is invited to attend the scrimmage -- free of charge.

• As he did on Monday, Coyotes forward Boyd Gordon skated individually before the team took the ice on Tuesday. Meanwhile, captain Shane Doan did not skate on Tuesday. Tippett said both players are nursing "minor" injuries and are considered day-to-day.

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