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Coyotes want to keep 'foot on the pedal'

Tocchet pushing Arizona to play faster; Hitchcock remaining patient with Dallas

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The potential is there. The Arizona Coyotes have young talent up front and veteran skill on defense. They have a new coach, Rick Tocchet, who was on the Pittsburgh Penguins' staff when they emphasized speed and won the Stanley Cup in back-to back years.

Get the puck out of their end and up to those forwards as quickly as possible, and the Coyotes can spend more time in the offensive zone and maximize that talent.

But for now it's a work in progress. After taking a 4-1 lead in their opener at the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, the Coyotes started sitting back in a 1-2-2, some of them reverting to the style of their old coach, Dave Tippett. They ended up losing 5-4.

"I don't want to play that way," Tocchet said. "I want to try to make it 5-1. We've still got to play good defense. We still want to be good in our [defensive] zone. But I want to put the foot on the pedal, and we obviously let the foot off the pedal."

They kept it off too much in their home opener against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. Arizona took an early 1-0 lead but was outshot 32-17 through two periods, allowed the tying goal with 1:12 left in the third and lost in overtime, 2-1.

"We're not playing fast enough," defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. "We've been talking about playing fast, but we didn't even do that. So it was embarrassing for two periods. It was the same in the first game. We stopped playing a little bit instead of pushing forward and keep pushing for the next goal. We back off."

Video: VGK@ARI: Rieder sends home rebound to open scoring

Tocchet is trying to create a consistent mindset. He wants his players thinking about playing fast when they come to the rink, not just generally, but specific to their assignment. Say a player is stretching. He wants him thinking about an opponent, like, "I'm going to get into a footrace with this guy. I want the puck in these areas." As the Penguins have shown, playing fast isn't always about tape-to-tape passes. It's about putting the puck into space and skating into it.

"I don't like using the word fragile, but it's a belief in what we're doing," Tocchet said. "We might be down 2-0, or we might be two [goals] up. We've got to play the same way. You can't change things because things do go right or wrong. We are who we are, and we have to show that swagger.

"If we're going to play that style, we have to do it 60 minutes. You can't just change because we going to do a prevent defense or whatever or we're down 2-0 and all of a sudden individuals are going to stickhandle through the whole team. We've got to be who we are, and I think that's the biggest challenge for the team, to have that identity."

The Coyotes play the Golden Knights in Vegas' inaugural home opener at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).


Slow start for Stars

Ken Hitchcock remains stuck on 781 wins, one behind Al Arbour for third among coaches in NHL history. First the Dallas Stars lost their home opener to a team playing its first NHL game, falling to the Golden Knights 2-1 on Friday. Then they lost to Hitchcock's previous team, the St. Louis Blues, 4-2 on Saturday.

The Stars outshot the Golden Knights 46-30, including 35-18 through the first two periods, but Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding. The Stars got off to a good start against the Blues, even though they were playing the second game of a back-to-back set on the road, before St. Louis scored three goals in a five-minute span.

The Stars are a work in progress too. They never had their full lineup in the preseason, and they're adjusting to Hitchcock's style -- competing harder at the puck all over the ice, being harder to play against. Consider this quote from Hitchcock, and that it came before the first game:

"I think the buy-in in practice has been tremendous," he said. "It's been great. It's been as good as I've ever seen. I've never seen a team that competes against each other, shows the respect for each other the way they compete against each other. It's been fun to watch. It hasn't as translated into the games on a consistent basis yet, and I don't know how long that's going to take. I know we're going to get it turned, and I know we're going to be there, but it does not happen overnight. …

"We think in two weeks we've improved dramatically in some of the areas, but we've still got a ways to go, so we'll see after a few games, the first five or six games. But I certainly like what I see at practice. It's a telltale sign of where we're going to be in a month."

Video: DAL@STL: Klingberg buries a PPG through traffic

The Stars play the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW, FS-D, NHL.TV).


Eakin's opportunity

Cody Eakin wanted to be more than a third-line center like he once was with Dallas; the Golden Knights wanted to see if he could do it after taking him from the Stars in the NHL Expansion Draft.

Well, here you go.

With the Golden Knights still managing their assets, Vadim Shipachyov, expected to be their No. 1 center, was assigned to Chicago of the American Hockey League to start the season because he didn't have to pass through waivers.

In Vegas' first two games, Eakin centered left wing David Perron and right wing James Neal at even strength, played on both special-teams units and led the forwards in ice time. He played 22:57 in the 2-1 win over Dallas and 22:05 in the 2-1 win over Arizona.

Eakin created the winning goal against the Stars. He noticed a defender covering Perron on the wall and took a route to the middle with speed. Defenseman Jason Garrison noticed. Instead of going up the wall to Perron, he passed to Eakin.

Video: VGK@DAL: Neal nets his second goal of the game

"You don't see that if you don't pay attention to it, but because I play with him, I notice that that's what he did," Perron said. "He caught the defenseman basically jumping on me before I got the puck, and then [Garrison] made a nice play."

That led to a 2-on-1. Eakin drew both defenders, then passed to the right to Neal, who flipped the puck past goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

"It's the hockey sense to find the right timing to do those certain things," Perron said.


Australian connections

When Washington Capitals forward Nathan Walker became the first Australian to play in the NHL -- and scored against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday as well -- it was an amazing story. It also called to mind two other NHL connections to the land Down Under.

Did you know Hockey Hall of Fame member Chris Chelios lived in Australia briefly while growing up? His parents, Gus and Sue, were Greek immigrants to the United States. They moved from Chicago to Sydney to go into business there but came back after two or three months.

Former NHL coach Mike Johnston's first job was in Australia. When he was 22 and trying to find a place to play, he phoned the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and get addresses for teams overseas. A woman took his request, put him on hold and gave him a couple addresses. There was one problem.

"I don't want Australia," Johnston told her. "I want Austria."

"Oh, Austria," she said.

She put him on hold again and returned with what he wanted. But he took the Australian addresses, anyway. Out went the letters. Back came a response. A six-team pro league was forming in Australia, and a guy there was building a program and rink. It was April, but because summer in North America is winter there, the season was about to start.

Video: MTL@WSH: First NHL Aussie Walker scores in debut

Johnston went down with a buddy, Ray Robertson, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick. They lived on the beach in Narrabeen. They played a season in Newcastle and, after the rink was built, another in Sydney. They won a championship.

They didn't just play. They coached -- the pro team, the junior team, youth teams.

"The interesting thing was, in Australia, I was a coach, and nobody knew anything about hockey, really," Johnston once said. "So I could do anything I wanted. No matter what drill I ran or what I did, I could do anything. … It gave me a chance to coach and just do whatever."

A few more know about hockey there now.

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