GLENDALE – Defenseman Zbynek Michalek practiced with teammates on Friday after playing his first game in nearly a month on Thursday night vs. Vancouver.
“I felt pretty good (on Thursday),” said Michalek, who has been nursing a lower-body injury for most of the season. “I was actually a little bit nervous before the game and for the first couple of shifts. After that, I felt pretty good - better than I expected - and I feel pretty good today. Right now it’s going day by day and we’ll just see how I feel. So far, so good.”
| Michalek |
Michalek played 16:02 in Phoenix’s 1-0 win over Vancouver on Thursday, including 6:06 in penalty-killing mode as the Coyotes killed all seven Canucks power plays.
“It’s probably not ideal to kill so many penalties your first game back, but at the same time you get thrown into the fire right away and it’s really (getting) back to work,” Michalek said. “There is nothing harder than to kill so many penalties. But that’s my game and my role on the team and I enjoy doing that.”
Head Coach Dave Tippett was thrilled to have Michalek back in the lineup.
“He was just about what I expected (and it was) a real solid effort from him,” Tippett said. “It was great to see him back. He raises the level. He has a work ethic and a commitment to do things right, so (when) a guy like that comes in and plays for your team it’s a big boost.”
The Coyotes have lost 85 man games to injury and have played only a handful of games this season – and Thursday’s was one of them – without a player on the inured reserve list.
As expected, the consensus around the team is it’s good to be at full strength.
“That’s nice to have,” Tippett said. “We’ve been missing some key people and it’s nice to get them back in the lineup.”
He added, “I think we can be still much better than we were last night and that’s what we’ll be looking for tomorrow. We don’t want to rest on our laurels. We’ve got a long way to come. We dropped some games that we needed to have and now we’ve got to get ourselves back in the race.”
Captain Shane Doan agreed.
“We count on so many guys,” Doan said. “When we have our full roster we think we’ve got a good team. That being said we’ve only been average this year. As good as we think we can be, we have to prove it on a game-to-game basis.”
The Coyotes have scored a power-play goal in six straight games. The franchise record is 14 straight games set in 1987-88 when the team was based in Winnipeg.
Defenseman Keith Yandle played a key role in the team’s power-play goal in Thursday night’s game by twice hustling to keep the puck in the offensive zone leading up to the goal eventually scored by Antoine Vermette.
While no official stat exists for keeping pucks in the offensive zone during power plays, Tippett and the coaching staff notice Yandle’s efforts.
“Keith has done a great job (at that),” Tippett said. “I can think of a handful of times that he’s made a great save on the blue line somehow and it’s turned into a goal for us or an opportunity.”
The NHL on Friday fined forward Martin Hanzal $5,000 for high-sticking Canucks forward David Booth during Thursday’s game.
The Coyotes are hosting the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. The Devils are lead by 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who has notched 38 points this season in 49 games.
Jagr, like Michalek, is from Czech Republic and Michalek, as always, is excited to play against Jagr on NHL ice.
“He’s been my idol since growing up,” Michalek said. “He’s probably the best known Czech athlete and everybody (there) follows him. I have a lot of respect for him for the way he’s playing at his age. It speaks for itself… It’s great to see (him succeed). He’s a hard worker. It’s going to be a big challenge to play against him and I always look forward to it. It gives you extra motivation to play against him and to try to stop him.”
Doan also is a fan of Jagr and his puck skills.
“If you ask guys who’s the best at protecting the puck I’m pretty sure nine guys out of 10 would say him,” Doan said. “He’s done it for years and years and he continues to do it, and he’s got incredible hands to go with it, a good shot, and he sees the ice so well. He’s exactly everything you want in a player.”
With 695 NHL goals, Jagr ranks seventh on the League’s all-time goal scorers list.
Tippett and Jagr were teammates with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s and the former is greatly impressed that the latter is still in the League and excelling.
“He’s a marvel for a hockey player,” Tippett said. “You look at what he’s doing at his age (and) his longevity, and how good a player he’s been for so long is really a testament to his fitness and his commitment to the game. You see him out there in a game, he looks like he’s still having fun playing.”
Tippett said he enjoyed being Jagr’s teammate although he remembers not playing on the same line with him very often.
“I might have gotten out there (with him) on a bad shift or something,” Tippett joked.
Tippett did share a funny story about Jagr with reporters on Friday.
“I remember we were playing on a line together and he passed the puck in front of the net one time and I wasn’t ready for it,” Tippett said. “There was a defenseman right beside me and when I got back to the bench he told me ‘Don’t worry about that guy, I’ll pass it when he’s not looking. You just be ready.’ That’s a little deeper than I think when I pass… He’s a good guy. I enjoyed playing with him.”