GLENDALE, Ariz. –
It's only the third game of the 2010 regular season, not Game 8 of the 2010 Playoffs. But the Red Wings are back in Arizona on Saturday and the Phoenix Coyotes
remember all too well the blowout Game 7 loss at the hands of Detroit last April that brought the best season in franchise history to a screeching halt.
A sellout crowd is expected for the Coyotes home opener -- a game that's been highly anticipated after a week of rest following a two-game split with Boston in their Compuware NHL Premiere series in Prague.
"In a lot of ways, this feels like the first game of the season," Phoenix center Vernon Fiddler
said. "Those first two games counted and we took them seriously, but it felt almost like a tournament. But being home and having Detroit in the building … it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
For captain Shane Doan
, whose season ended with a separated shoulder in Game 3 that could have cost Phoenix a chance to advance, anticipation of this game is palpable. Doan stalked the arena halls in Detroit and Phoenix during the final four games, inconsolable as what he thought could be a deep playoff run ebbed away.
"I'd been told how bad we were for so long, about Phoenix and that we couldn't win … and to get back to the playoffs and not be able to play was unbearable," Doan said. "Thought we could win the series, I thought we would, and we were going to. We played great and pushed it to seven games, but it was such an empty feeling to watch that last game get away (6-1) and be powerless to do anything."
"In a lot of ways, this feels like the first game of the season. Those first two games counted and we took them seriously, but it felt almost like a tournament. But being home and having Detroit in the building … it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
-- Phoenix center Vernon Fiddler
Doan was a wrecking ball in the first two games of the series, chalking up 18 hits and getting under the skin of the Detroit players. But in an attempt to sidestep goalie Jimmy Howard
and avoid kneeing him in the head, Doan tumbled to the ice and was unable to brace for a direct hit into the boards.
"I was coming with a lot of speed and if I had hit Howard I know I would have hurt him," Doan said. "It was a freak accident, something that never happened in the previous thousand games I played and probably won't happen for another thousand. But I never wanted something more in my career than to play in those games. I can't explain how much energy and emotion I had without an outlet to release it."
The Coyotes showed some scoring depth in a win over the Bruins, but are still looking for chemistry with their lines after Doan and linemate Wojtek Wolski
managed just three shots in two games with newcomer Eric Belanger
between them. Wolski has been skating with Czechs Martin Hanzal
and Radim Vrbata
this week, while young center Kyle Turris
is expected to make his season debut with Doan and either Scottie Upshall
or Ray Whitney
, who is questionable for Saturday with an upper body injury.
Defenseman Derek Morris
, who will be asked to eat up a lot of the minutes left when Zbynek Michalek
departed in free agency, will make his season debut after missing the first two games with a groin injury. That leaves David Schlemko
as the likely odd-man out after rookie Oliver Ekman-Larsson
was given lots of ice time in Prague.
The news off the ice also appears promising.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly expressed optimism during a Friday appearance on NHL Live! that the sale of the Coyotes to Chicago-based businessman Matthew Hulsizer could happen in the near future. "It's been a long process, but I believe the city (of Glendale) will be announcing today or sometime over the weekend that they have an agreement in principle with Matthew Hulsizer and his group and we have been working with the Hulsizer group on the purchase transaction aspect and I think, conceptually, we have an agreement," Daly said
The NHL has been operating the Coyotes since purchasing the team out of bankruptcy in the spring of 2009.
Doan said he will be more than relieved when, and if, it is finally resolved. Even with more stability to open the season -- unlike last year, the Coyotes actually had a coach for training camp and opening night will be attended by paying customers instead of those enjoying discounts and giveaways.
"You can see the light, but I don't know we're to it yet," Doan said. "We never address it in the room, but it's an annoying, consuming thing to have it in your mind. Whenever you're addressing the future, on and off the ice with your family, it's always there. Once we get it done, it will be a huge hurdle behind us."