GRETZKY STRESSES TEAM PHILOSOPHY
By: Chad Lynch
Rather than splitting the players into two groups and holding separate practice sessions today, head coach Wayne Gretzky decided to work as a team by holding a scrimmage session with all players participating.
The scrimmage was not a punishment for Tuesday night's loss; in fact, it gave players the chance to work on game situations. On the other hand it was not a reward as the scrimmage stressed the philosophy that Gretzky and his staff want to instill in the Coyotes franchise.
"The expectation of our team to win every night and being realistic, we know that is not possible," said Gretzky. "But it is possible to have establish a style of play where when other teams in the league play us, after the game they say, 'that was a real hard game' and that is what we are trying to establish now early in camp."
In the Coyotes philosophy, the team is always more important than the individual and players need to play within their abilities and at the same time embrace their individual roles.
"Each player on this team has a role and responsibility," said Gretzky. "I don't expect Petr Nedved to play as physical a game as Tyson Nash, but I expect him to score timely goals. Likewise, I don't expect Nash to score 50 goals, but when he's on the ice, I expect him to play the body and take the man every time he can."
While the Coyotes' preseason record is now 1-2-0, Gretzky is not concerned about his preseason record, his concern is getting his team ready to begin a season that starts two weeks from now in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"My concern in exhibition is not wins and loses," said Gretzky. "My concern is execution, getting my team ready, and getting the focus of the players to be on a team philosophy."
One area that Gretzky wanted to see improvement in coming into training camp was in the physical play department. Something he has been happy with to this point.
"You have to be physical when playing this game," said Gretzky. "When you play a role on this team where you are a penalty killer, or a grinder, I expect you to take the body when the opportunity presents itself.
"You can check off the cities in this league that are real hard to play against ands which ones are easy to play against," continued Gretzky. "I bet you, the cities that are the hardest to play against are the ones at the top of the standings like the Tampa Bay's and the Calgary's. When you face those teams, you have to raise your intensity to their level to compete and that is what we are instilling here."
Following the first period of Tuesday's game with Los Angeles, Mike Leclerc was pulled out of the game after suffering a mild groin pull, but at this point the Coyotes are taking no chances.
"After the Brian Boucher situation, with anything that is marginal right now, we are going to err on the side of caution," said Gretzky. "He'll be fine, but it was just unfortunate for him because he played a real good first period."
DEFENSEMEN CONTINUE TO IMPRESS
On Tuesday, Keith Ballard and Matt Jones were in the line-up because their play in the previous game merited another look. Both Ballard and Jones have earned another game on the Coyotes up-coming road trip, as has another pair of young defensemen, Zbynek Michalek and Matthew Spiller.
"I like all four of our young defensemen," said Gretzky. "They have paid attention and done what is asked of them and they continue to play their way into games."
All four players are important pieces to the Coyotes franchise; at this point it is just matter of determining when is the right time for them to take the next step.
"We know that all four of these guys are all going to be a big part of this organization and it's future," said Gretzky. "It is just a matter of determining if it is now, tomorrow or next week. I think they've all played well and we'll have to go game to game."
NO DOUBTS ABOUT 'CUJO'
When Curtis Joseph surrendered eight goals to the Kings on Tuesday night it was not a product of diminishing skills, but rather the sight of an elite goaltender trying to return to top form after over a year off.
"I have all the confidence in Curtis," said Gretzky. "I guarantee you that there were some goals that he would like to have back but next time we play, Curtis will make those saves. It is all part of the exhibition process and getting back a feel for the game at this level, but I am not concerned at all about his abilities.
POSITIONAL PLAY BECOMES A BUILDING BLOCK
When Gretzky and the Coyotes' coaching staff reviewed the game film from Tuesday night, the overall impression was very good, despite the loss.
"I think in the game itself, we did a lot of things very well," said Gretzky. "We watched the tape this morning and talked about some minor things we want to do that will help establish our team identity. Positional play for the most part was pretty good. Some of the things we need to improve on now are having smarter shifts and better changes where we are changing hard and getting the next group on the puck."
On Friday, the Coyotes will begin a two-game road trip that kicks off with a game in Anaheim and concludes with a rematch against the Kings at the Staples Center on Sunday.
Phoenix will be taking the entire training camp roster on the road trip and dividing the squad up for the two games.
The roster for Friday's game, which was announced Wednesday is as follows:
Curtis Joseph and David LeNeveu
Paul Mara, Brad Ference, Sean O'Donnell, David Tanabe, Matthiew Spiller and Cale Hulse
Ladislav Nagy, Petr Nedved, Brett Hull, Jeff Taffe, Krystofer Kolanos, Boyd Devereaux, Jason Chimera, Mike Rupp, Fredrik Sjostrom, Chris McAllister, Mike Ricci and Tyson Nash