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COACHING STAFF STRESSING DISCIPLINE

Wednesday, 01.28.2009 / 4:20 PM / Features
By Russell Brooks
The Coyotes coaching staff has been stressing discipline this season and the team has listened.

After averaging 14.5 penalty minutes per game last season, which ranked 24th in the NHL, the Coyotes are averaging 13.3 penalty minutes per game this season, which ranks 11th in the league.

“That’s one area that has been a real positive,” Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky said after Wednesday's practice. “…You are going to get three or four penalties a game, especially if you are playing a physical team and playing in the game. The hooking and holding penalties that you don’t need to happen in the offensive zone, we’ve been really good at that.”

The lack of penalties has limited opponents to just 14 power-play opportunities in the past five games.

“We talked about it, and especially this time of the year, it's important to stay disciplined and don’t give other teams the chance to go on the power play,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek said.

Continued discipline will be key for the Coyotes on Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks, who operate the league's fourth-best power play.

WORKING ON LITTLE THINGS

Two areas the Coyotes worked on at practice on Wednesday were keeping their third forward high in the offensive zone and taking passes off the boards.

“We are giving two many second and third chances when we have pucks along the boards inside the blue line and not getting them out (of the defensive zone),” Gretzky said.

Keeping the third forward high in the offensive zone is important to letting the defense pinch and create scoring opportunities, which Gretzky thought was lacking on Tuesday night.

“Because our third guy hasn’t been responsible, especially last night, it makes it difficult for our defensemen to be able to pinch,” Gretzky said. “When the third guy is there, we want our defensemen to pinch and try to create turnovers and keep pucks in the offensive zone."

QUICK HITS

Forward Daniel Winnik will return to the lineup on Thursday night in place of Peter Mueller, who left Tuesday night's game after two periods because of injury and did not return. Mueller did not practice on Wednesday.

“We need (Winnik),” Gretzky said. “We need his size and his speed. San Jose is a big team, a good team, and this is a good opportunity for him to turn his season around and contribute in a positive way.”

• Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal vs. San Jose on Thursday night.

• Rookie forward Viktor Tikhonov (upper body injury) is four to five days away from returning to action, according to Gretzky.
 
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