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'Summer mode's off': Coyotes' final tune-up spans three games

Arizona's outlook hones in on chemistry, systems, speed, and repetition

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes begin a three-game preseason excursion tonight at Edmonton's Rogers Place, where they are scheduled to play the Oilers at 6:00 p.m.

Tonight's game can be viewed on a live web stream courtesy of the Oilers and the NHL.

Continuing on, they'll travel to Vancouver for an exhibition with the Canucks on Thursday night before completing their preseason schedule on Saturday evening in Anaheim against the Ducks.

They'll open their regular season schedule five days later in that same building, Anaheim's Honda 
Center, on Thursday, October 3.

31 players currently remain on Arizona's training camp roster: 17 forwards, 11 defensemen, and three goaltenders.

"Now we're trying to get some guys together chemistry-wise, and the team, basically," said head coach Rick Tocchet before the team left for Edmonton. "We'll be working on some concepts in the games, that's the main thing. You obviously want to be injury-free heading into the season, but these are games you've got to play, and we've got to get some guys that are a little bit rusty to play."

Moving forward, changes to preseason lineup personnel will become less and less drastic as the coaching staff looks to pare its list of players to 23 by the time the regular season commences.

"A lot of guys here now played with each other last year, we're fortunate to have a lot of returning players," Michael Grabner said of developing on-ice chemistry with teammates. "Obviously I can't speak on the lines or the d-pairings or what they're going to look like, but it would be nice to get a few practices and games in with the same guys and learn, or re-learn everyone's tendencies."

Only four of the 31 players that remain on the training camp roster have played in the maximum allotted amount of preseason games thus far; Christian Dvorak , Barrett Hayton, Ilya Lyubushkin , and Michael Chaput have each played in three.

There are those, too, such as captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson , that have only appeared in one game.

"You're also trying to focus on yourself to get going a little bit, so that's a bit selfish in a way," Ekman-Larsson said of the aim of the final three games. "It's nice to be on the ice together and work on some things in game situations. The good thing is, we don't have a lot of new guys, so most of the guys know the system, and they can help out the new guys that are here. I think that's huge for us."

Sweating out offseason tendencies, for some, come to the forefront. Consistently climbing back to full game speed and brushing off bad habits that may have crept in during informal practices and casual scrimmages, that's a real thing. And it's about performing at another level.

"Summer mode's off, it's full-on season mode now," Lawson Crouse said. "We've just got to work on everything; breakouts, staying together as a pack, playing with speed, playing with pace, obviously working on our power play, penalty kill and stuff like that, everything. It's all important. You've got to prepare for every single thing that can happen during the season."

There are many young players on the Coyotes' roster entering their prime, and many of them have known nothing else but a long offseason. It can be tough to break out of such a long layoff to get going from the start, and though Tocchet is conscious of how he manages players in the preseason, including health and injury, he knows they need to get a solid taste of the game before October arrives.

"You want your players to play," Tocchet said. "A lot of our players have been off for five months during the offseason for the past couple of years so we need to play, that's not much hockey. We need certain guys to play ahead of that opening game so we have some chemistry. I don't want to put too much stock into it, but I just believe that some guys have to play because of the long layoff."

Sometimes it is that simple; just playing.

The timing. The communication. The feel of it all.

"We're just trying to get better every day, getting the tempo up and getting everyone in game shape and getting some chemistry built," Grabner added. "I think we're just going to look to improve in every game as we go here, show that we're getting better every game. We've got three more games to get those details in before we get started in October."

Bottom line:

"That's it, everyone's here to get better. Everyone's here to get better so that we're ready for puck drop on the third."

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