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Tocchet ready to take hard line with struggling Coyotes
By JOHN MARSHALL
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Rick Tocchet has been known as a players' coach, from his days with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh to early in his current tenure with the Arizona Coyotes.
That could be about to change.
His team still winless and spinning on a wheel to nowhere, Tocchet is looking for something, anything that may spark his team, even if it means playing the part of the bad guy.
Hard-skating practices, roster changes, even curfews could be in store for the Coyotes after their latest lackadaisical loss.
"You don't want to babysit players, but it's just got to get harder now, right?" Tocchet said following Arizona's 6-2 home loss to Boston Saturday night. "I hate doing that stuff, but if that's what it takes we might have to do it. Some coaches in the NHL, they skate the hell out of their guys and they come back the next night and play well, so maybe I've got to do that. I try not to be that guy. I just don't want to be a babysitter out here."
The Coyotes were supposed to make a turn back toward relevance this season. Their roster was young, but filled with talent, and Tocchet had a new message, not to mention a new style of play after eight seasons under previous coach Dave Tippett.
Arizona opened the season flailing with inconsistency, playing well at times, but unable to sustain it enough to win a game.
At 0-4-1, the Coyotes are the only winless team in the Western Conference and join the Buffalo Sabres as the only NHL teams without a victory.
Arizona has led in four of its five games, including Saturday night against the Bruins, yet can't seem to find a way to hold on. The Coyotes have one point so far, coming in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second game of the season.
"You can't have four or five passengers," Tocchet said. "You look down the bench and some guys are sucking wind. I don't understand that after our last game, why are we sucking wind? Are we out of shape? Is it anxiety when there is pressure? Sometimes when you get anxiety, you get tired. Just trying to put a finger on this."
It hasn't helped the Coyotes that No. 1 goalie Antti Raanta has struggled with injuries.
Acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Rangers, the Finnish goalie was supposed to take over for Mike Smith, who was traded to Calgary a week earlier. Instead, he has yet to take off, limited to one full game with a pair of lower-body injuries.
Louis Domingue, who played well at times as Smith's backup, has not been able to stop much of anything in Raanta's place.
After giving up six goals to the Bruins, Domingue is 0-3-0 and is 40th in the NHL with a goals-against average of 4.55. He's made some spectacular saves, but also given up several soft goals through his first four games.
"I'm a goalie. I have to stop pucks," Domingue said. "I've done it in the past. What's going on? I don't know."
It's not all on Domingue's shoulders.
Tocchet wants the Coyotes to play fast and generate more offense. That sometimes means the defensemen pinching up on the offensive zone to create more opportunities.
Unfortunately for Arizona, it has created more opportunities for their opponents.
"I don't know why we can do it for certain parts of the game, the system looks good and all of the sudden it doesn't," Tocchet said. "When pressure hits this team, for some reason, adversity, they just forget where to go and they just start running around. That's the dumfounding thing for me. I don't understand that."
The Coyotes are counting on several young players this season, and it could take some time for them to acclimate to playing larger roles, along with Tocchet's style. But several of Arizona's veterans have gotten off to slow starts, including Ekman-Larsson, a former All-Star who Tocchet says "needs to play better, straight up."
"It just can't continue this way," Tocchet said. "The leadership group's got to kind of bunker down a little bit, too. A couple guys aren't playing well and they've got look at themselves right now. They really do."
A change in coaching philosophy could nudge them in that direction.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Updated October 15, 2017