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The Desert Dog Blog: December Schedule will Test Team's Mettle

Monday, 12.05.2011 / 7:45 AM / The Desert Dog Blog - by Dave Vest
By Dave Vest
The Coyotes are 0 for 2 in December so far with losses at Winnipeg and vs. Philadelphia already in the books.

It’s not the start they were seeking to the most hectic month of their season, one in which they’ll be as busy, if not busier, than the elves in Santa’s Workshop.

Phoenix will play 16 games in the final month of 2011. They also will play 16 games in March, but their schedule that month features nine home games. This month, the Coyotes will play only six games in Glendale.

Photo by Getty Images.
A closer look at their schedule reveals the Coyotes will play three sets of back-to-back games in the next 17 days, and four overall before New Year’s Day. That should prove challenging considering Phoenix played only two sets of back-to-back games in the first two months of the season. A deeper look also reveals that Phoenix will play at least three games in four nights in every remaining week of the month.

“December is the most difficult month of our season when you consider our travel schedule and the number of back-to-back games we play,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney told me on Sunday via e-mail. “However, we have been a strong road team this season and I expect us to show continual improvement. If we can get our power play back on track and stay relatively healthy, I believe we can be the leading team in our division.”

The Coyotes left for Chicago on Sunday to play a nationally televised game against the Blackhawks on Monday night at the United Center. It will be the start of a grueling week that features three more games – at Nashville on Tuesday, at Detroit on Thursday and at home vs. Minnesota on Saturday. Phoenix will get a three-day break after the Minnesota game, but after that it’s 10 games in 17 days to close the month.

As daunting as the month ahead appears, keep in mind they Coyotes have a better road record (7-4-1) than home record (6-5-2) so far this season. Also keep in mind that Dave Tippett guided the team to a 16-8-5 record in December in his first two seasons as head coach.

Rostislav Klesla
• The Coyotes on Sunday recalled defenseman Chris Summers from the American Hockey League.

Summers will be in the lineup on Monday vs. Chicago in place of Rostislav Klesla, who was injured late in Saturday’s game vs. Philadelphia.

Klesla, who leads the team's defensemen with a plus-7 rating, has been placed on the injured reserve list with a lower-body injury.

• Several Coyotes are poised to reach milestones on this week’s three-game trip:

Defenseman Keith Yandle is on track to play in his 200th consecutive game on Tuesday at Nashville.

Winger Ray Whitney is two assists away from his 600th NHL assist.

Forward Paul Bissonnette is two games away from playing in his 100th career game with the Coyotes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Contact Dave Vest at thedesertdogblog@phoenixcoyotes.com and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes.
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