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The Desert Dog Blog: Notes & Quotes From Monday's Practice

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE – After a rare day off on Sunday, the Coyotes resumed practicing on Monday at Arena. They will practice again on Tuesday morning and then fly to Anaheim for a game against the Ducks on Wednesday night. That game will be the first of 10 in 18 days for the Coyotes to close the month of December. I got tired just typing that sentence…

• The week ahead: The Coyotes will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak on Wednesday at the Honda Center where they have fared well under Head Coach Dave Tippett (4-3-0), including a 5-4 win on Oct. 23. After Wednesday's game, Phoenix will host Edmonton and the New York Rangers on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

• Defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who has missed the past four games because of a lower-body injury, skated alone before practice on Monday and could be back in the lineup as soon as later this week.

"He's coming along but he's still day-to-day," Head Coach Dave Tippett said after Monday's practice. "We wanted to make sure and give him one more test before he gets with the group... He's on the road back. Whether it's this week or the end of this week, we're not sure yet."

Klesla co-leads the team’s defensemen with a plus-7 rating, and is quietly having an outstanding season.

"He's a guy that plays key minutes in key sitautions," Tippett said. "Any time you lose a guy like that he's missed, but hopefully he's not too far away (from returning)."

Photo by Dave Reginek.
• Winger Ray Whitney on Monday spoke about notching his 600th NHL assist last week during a game at Joe Louis Arena.

Whitney said friend Ron Francis was among those who called him to congratulate him on reaching that milestone. Francis, however, jokingly reminded Whitney that he still needs 649 more assists to catch him in that category.

"I guess in today’s day and age, 600 is pretty good, but if you look at where it is in the scheme of the history of the League, it’s still quite a ways back there," Whitney said.

Francis (1,249) is second only to Wayne Gretzky in NHL career assists. Gretzky notched 1,963 helpers.

"I’ve always passed the puck," Whitney said. "I grew up watching Gretzky and that’s all he did back then was set up the play. My last year of junior I had 118 assists, so I’ve always, by nature (and) maybe to a fault, tried to pass the puck. And if you look, sometimes I pass (up) some pretty good shot opportunities. I’ve always preferred to pass than shoot for whatever reason, so I guess the assist part isn’t as surprising as maybe it should be."

• Congratulations to former Coyotes captain Keith Tkachuk on his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.

Tkachuk captained the Coyotes/Jets from 1993-2001 (except for 1995-96) and ranks among the top 10 in many of the franchise’s all-time records list: sixth in games played (640), fourth in points (623), second in goals (323), fifth in assists (300), and second in game-winning goals (40).

Coyotes captain Shane Doan recently spoke about Tkachuk’s influence on him early in his career. Check out this comment from Doan’s Q & A at

Tkachuk and Doan at the 2004 NHL All-Star Game. Photo by Getty Images.
“One of the things that meant the most to me in my entire career, I got to play in my first All-Star Game. It was in Minnesota (in 2004) and Keith was there and I was pretty shy and quiet. I didn't feel out of place, but I don't care who you are, if it's your first All-Star Game, you feel out of place because these are the guys you always watched and these are the best of the best. Keith made sure he would kind of give it to me and tease me, but at the same time he went out and made sure I played on his line, he made sure we were on the ice together, he set me up for a goal. You know what I mean? It's hard to explain. I have so much admiration for him and really think he's one of those individuals that make our sport so great.”

• There’s still time to order the 2011 Holiday Cards drawn by Coyotes players for Coyotes Charities.

Can you draw this? Radim Vrbata can.
Ray Whitney’s card is getting lots of attention for its silliness, but I have to say my favorite is Radim Vrbata’s, with his spot-on depiction of the traditional Santa Claus.

Vrbata's attention to detail is impressive (see photo at right). His drawing kind of reminds of one of those you find in magazines that prospective art students are asked to draw to see if they have the necessary skills needed to become an art student.

Click here for info on purchasing the holiday cards.

• The NHL announced its plans for conference realignment last week and the Coyotes are in “Conference A” with Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver.

General Manager Don Maloney told me the Coyotes are thrilled with the new conferences and the fact that Coyotes fans will be able to see every other NHL team in Glendale at least once per season.

Tippett likes that the Stanley Cup Playoffs will start with two rounds of in-conference matchups: No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3, with the winners of those series playing each other for the conference title.

“I think you'll start to build very good rivalries because your playoffs start within your (conference),” Tippett said. “That's the way it used to be way back when I started playing in the League, and there were some heated rivalries when you’ve got to get out of your division first to move on in the playoffs.”

Naming the new conferences has been a hot topic since the realignment was announced. Fans have been having fun suggesting names on Twitter using #NHLConferenceNames.

Here are some of the funnier suggestions:

*Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine
*Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo
*Sporty Conference, Baby Conference, Posh Conference, Scary Conference  

Connor Murphy moves the puck up the ice during the 2011 Coyotes Prospects Development Camp. Photo by Norm Hall.
Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette, aka @BizNasty2point0, even offered a suggestion via Twitter: Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Easy-E, Big Pun.

• Defenseman Connor Murphy, whom the Coyotes selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft last June, returned form a knee injury and played his first Ontario Hockey League game of the season on Friday night.

Murphy notched an assist in his first game with Sarnia, but the Sting lost 7-3 to Erie.

“It was fun until we started losing,” Murphy told the Sting’s official Web site. “The loss hurts. It’s a team we were supposed to beat.”

He added, “My conditioning was good. ... My passes and breakouts were a little off. I got some shots through offensively. But I need to do better in keeping the puck out of our net.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contact Dave Vest at and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes.
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