GLENDALE – The Coyotes headed to Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon to start a quick two-game trip that includes a game vs. the Jets on Monday and then a game at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.
The first stop on the trip will be a homecoming for defenseman Michael Stone, who was born and raised in Winnipeg and spends time there during the off-seasons.
Stone has played 90 NHL games but none against Winnipeg, the city where his parents still reside, about a 15-minute drive from the MTS Centre – the Jets’ home rink.
“I’m excited,” Stone said Sunday, before the team departed. “I’ve never done it, but I imagine it’s very special to play in an NHL game in your hometown.”
Stone twice has played at the MTS Centre as a pro - on back-to-back nights against the Manitoba Moose in 2010-11 when he was a member of the Coyotes’ affiliate in the American Hockey League. He didn’t score in those AHL games – one win, one loss - but he remembers the experience fondly.
Stone was just six years old when the Jets moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996.
“I remember going to Jets games but I don’t remember a lot of the details, and I was a little too young so I don’t really remember how I felt when they left,” Stone said. “I do know I wasn’t as upset about them leaving town as a lot of people older than me.”
Stone said his plan was to have a low-key dinner with a buddy and his parents on Sunday night in the house he and his younger brother Mark grew up in and learned to play hockey in and around. Mark, by the way, recently cracked into the NHL as a forward with the Ottawa Senators.
Stone has scored eight goals this season, which ranks eighth on the Coyotes but first among the defensemen. In Saturday’s game, he made a slick defensive play to prevent a goal against Anaheim after goalie Mike Smith got caught away from the net.
“I think I’ve gotten a little confidence back in these last few games,” Stone said. “Last night’s game wasn’t great for any of us, but I felt good about the way I played against Calgary and Minnesota last week. Hopefully I can keep that going on Monday. It would be nice to play well in my backyard.”
The Coyotes are hoping a road trip will help them snap out of a slump in which they’ve posted a 1-4-0 record in their past five games.
“I think sometimes you get in funks where you're kind of out of sorts. We're out of sorts right now," Head Coach Dave Tippett said after the team’s 5-3 loss to Anaheim on Saturday. “There's ebbs and flows to the season that you've got to manage. That's the biggest thing. We have to manage those things better, and that's the one area of our game this year that I think has been different than in the past. We haven't been able to manage games and persevere. We've shown glimpses of it, but not long term.”
Captain Shane Doan says the entire team is not playing up to its potential.
“You can point your finger at myself… and the guys up front that get the majority of the ice time,” Doan said. “The blue line (too). You can point at everybody. Our blue line can be better. Our forwards can be better. Our goaltending can be better.”
He added, “You have to find ways to contribute more as each individual guy and do your job. We talk about keeping it simple and doing the little things, but as a group we tend to get away from that. When we get away from that, we get in trouble. We've shown lately that we can't handle too much adversity. We have to keep it simple.”
After Saturday’s game Tippett was asked if he thinks it’s time for a roster shakeup.
“We have to get the players that are here to play much better before you can justify doing something else,” Tippett said. “If I walked in here and said, ‘I think every player is just maxing right out,’ then you say, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe we’ve got to make some changes.’ But until we get the players to max out, which is my job and which is what we’re supposed to be doing, that’s as far as I look right now.”
The Coyotes, of course, used to be the Winnipeg Jets before the franchise moved to Arizona in 1996. The Jets rejoined the League in 2011-12 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg.
The Coyotes and Jets have played twice since the NHL returned to Winnipeg. Each team won the game played on its home ice.
The Jets on Sunday fired Head Coach Claude Noel and replaced him with Paul Maurice. Winnipeg has lost five straight games, and is 19-23-5 and in last place in the Central Division.
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