GLENDALE – The Coyotes begin the second half of the 2013-14 season with three home games in a row, and Head Coach Dave Tippett is looking for his team to revert to the way it played earlier this season when it went 9-0-2 in its first 11 games in Glendale.
“Early in the year we made this a very hard place to play in,” Tippett said after Monday’s practice. “We started (those games) well and really pushed games along. That’s what we need to get back to. It comes down to making sure we start well and push the game in the right direction, but then you’ve got to stay away from the mistakes and push it all the way through. That’s what we’ve been lacking here a little bit lately.”
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The Coyotes have started this six-game homestand 1-2-0. In those games, Phoenix was outscored 10-7.
“The offensive part of our game (and) the power play have been pretty good," Tippett said. “Defending (and) the penalty kill can use improvement.”
He added, “Everybody wants to do well. We have a good group like that. I never question their desire to do well. It’s just a matter of putting it in place on the ice. The games are so tight and your margin for error is very slim. Sometimes a mistake here or there can dictate the outcome.”
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who missed Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Philadelphia because of an upper-body injury, did not practice Monday and will not play Tuesday vs. Calgary, Tippett said. He's hoping Ekman-Larsson will return to the lineup before the homestand ends.
Meanwhile, defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who has been out since Dec. 17 because of a lower-body injury, skated alone on Monday.
“I think he’s moving in the right direction,” Tippett said. “I think he’s still pretty limited. He’ll skate with the group tomorrow so that’s a positive sign. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and hopefully it keeps getting better. Last time (he returned from injury), I think he pushed it a little bit. This time we’re going to make sure he goes through all the steps without re-hurting it and see if we can get him going for a longer period of time.”
On Monday, Michalek and center Martin Hanzal learned they would play for Czech Republic at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
On Tuesday, Team Canada is expected to unveil its roster and goalie Mike Smith is hoping his name is on it.
“It’s exciting,” Smith said. “It’s just going to be nice to have it done with. If I’m on the team then I’m going to be definitely honored. If I’m not, obviously I’ll be a little disappointed.”
Ekman-Larsson (Sweden) and forward Lauri Korpikoski (Finland) also are hoping to receive their official invitations to the Winter Olympics on Tuesday.
Like Tippett, Smith is eager for the Coyotes to get back to playing more consistent, detail-oriented hockey.
“Our best players have to be our best players and then the other guys have to play a part, too,” Smith said. “That’s been the fun thing about playing on this team for a long time. Everyone is important on this team and I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit. We’ve kind of played a little more river hockey than we’re used to. If we start tightening up defensively it will help our game offensively, too."
He added, “We know good teams ramp up their play in the second half of the season and we’re going to have to do that also.”