Arizona Coyotes remain close-knit and upbeat through rough start, injuries
One of the first things that can be wrecked for teams during long losing streaks are chemistry and locker room camaraderie.
But the Coyotes made sure that wasn't the case during their 11-game losing streak to open the season, and after they recently put together three wins and an overtime loss over four games, things continue to be going smoothly "in the room," as is said in hockey vernacular.
"To be honest with you, it's the most tight group I've been in, like ever. A bunch of great guys, top to bottom, and everybody hangs out together pretty well," forward Antoine Roussel said. "It's too bad because we didn't start the way we wanted, but kind of reversed it the last week and we sure hope to keep it that way."
What was built in training camp has carried over into the season, even when the losses piled up. A Coyotes team loaded with new faces has had to stick together in the face of a long, early road trip and a difficult schedule in which Arizona played both the Atlantic and Metropolitan Division leaders, Florida and Carolina; the defending Stanley Cup champion (Tampa Bay), the Washington Capitals and the top two teams in their own division, Minnesota and St. Louis twice.
That's not to mention four games already against three of the Pacific Division's top teams, Edmonton, Anaheim and Vegas.
"You have to stay positive and take the good things you did in the game and try to get better as a team," alternate captain Loui Eriksson said.
Coach André Tourigny's camp practices were arduous, the new coach looking to set a tone and the new and returning players out to make a good first impression. Instead of complaints and negativity about the hard work, Tourigny noticed smiles and good-natured ribbing among the players.
The Coyotes have long been able to count on Christian Fischer for vocal leadership and pregame emotion to get teammates fired up as they head out to the ice. But Fischer is injured, and energy has come from other places.
No problem there, said Tourigny. One of the most talkative Coyotes — even by his own admission — is in his first year with the team, forward Ryan Dzingel. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has also been among those providing energy, along with now-injured center Jay Beagle.
"We have a bunch of great personalities on the team. It's fun to come to the rink," Rousselsaid.
Tourigny was asked who has taken over for Fischer as the rah-rah guy in the pregame entrance.
"No one has the time. 'Zinger (Dzingel) is talking all the time," the coach joked.
"There's a lot of good people in the locker room. I know that people say that as a cliche, but that's what stinks the most why we're not playing well because we have good people and good character in the locker room, people you want to be around every day," Dzingel said after the Coyotes' shootout loss to Columbus on Nov. 18, their second overtime loss this season. "If it was this bad and we didn't have good character guys in the locker room and the coaching staff, I think it would be tough to come to the rink every day. But it's been easy."
It's easier for sure with victories. But with so many veteran players with something to prove and younger players getting their chance in the NHL due to injuries, the Coyotes, win or lose, have to keep a good environment and keep spirits up.
There is pride, too, and the omnipresent stress of not just being in the NHL but keeping your spot, as Tourigny has pointed out in comments this week.
"It's a good thing that we took it seriously. Losing is never fun," Eriksson said. "Everyone knows it's a long season and a lot of new players coming into the team. I feel like everyone is working together really good here, and if we can keep building on that then things will get even better here going forward. We just have to keep working hard for each other."
Hutton to COVID protocol
The Coyotes on Wednesday announced that goaltender Carter Hutton has been placed in the NHL's COVID protocol. Hutton has been on injured reserve with a lower body injury since Oct. 25 and has missed 14 games. Hutton joined forwards Andrew Ladd and Johan Larsson in the protocol.