Excitement filled the new Gila River Arena when the Arizona Coyotes took to the ice for the first time in their 2014-2015 season. Removed from what was a dismal offseason of what could have been and falling just a point short of making the playoffs, fans can feel as if there was some unfinished business. During the preseason, you saw a revamped team that found ways to score, balance their lines, and take control of the ice, allowing their goaltenders to sit back.
It really took only one game to at least get back into the regular season rhythm. Falling to the Winnepeg Jets in their season opener, a solid performance against the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers gave them at least something to think about.
Take the game against the Kings and you can see more than just the will to win. After Oliver Ekman-Larrson knocked in the game winner four minutes into the overtime period, captain Shane Doan had a few words exchanged immediately after the puck sailed to the net. With a small brawl ensuing between Doan and Jarret Stoll, people can sense that there is a slightly different kind of chemistry beginning to develop.
Then came Edmonton, a team that was blown out by the Kings 24 hours ago. Tied after the first period, this gave way for Mikkel Boedker to help replace some of the skates they had lost, including Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro. Boedker scored three of the final five goals, picking up his first hat trick of his young career en route to a 7-4 victory.
“You have to find the right spots on the ice and you have to put them in,” Boedker said. “I’m getting good opportunities and my linemates are finding me. When you are hot, things tend to go in and that’s how it’s going right now.”
Boedker’s performance helped lift up its offense to score seven goals for the first time since March 2013. This also matched the same amount of goals compared to their final four games of last season. For Boedker, he is the first Coyote to score five goals in the first three games of the season and sits tied for second behind the New York Rangers’s Rick Nash.
“When he gets opportunities he’s capitalizing on them and that was a big plus for us tonight,” Tippett said of Boedker after the win against Edmonton.
It is early indeed, but winning two of the first three games in this manner is a major positive step. With also the additions of Sam Gagner and Joe Vitale, as well as the return of Mike Smith, its lines have become stronger and has allowed Smith to at least be a little more patient with his saves. Both skaters have failed to score, but their presence has at least allowed the rest of their veterans to rest up a little more.
With all the good happening, there is a little room for improvement.
“It was a sloppy game by us,” Tippett said after the game against the Oilers. “It seemed like pucks were bouncing all over the place and a lot of major mistakes. We got away with it, but I would like to see us be more sound.”
A coach like Tippett is still thinking about last season and does not want to get too comfortable. With a much more scattered schedule allowing the Coyotes to break and relax much more often, the opportunities to get better are there. Ending their home stand against the St. Louis Blues this Saturday will make way for a short two game road trip and provide Arizona a small chance to be tested.
“By the committee, we need to have good hard practices in order to become a solid hockey team,” Tippett said.