The 20th anniversary season of the Arizona Coyotes is about to begin. All the skates will be sharpened, the pucks frozen, the equipment all lined up for the players' use. It was a long hot summer, but now hockey is finally here.
The Arizona Coyotes start the season at home against the rough, and rowdy Philadelphia Flyers at Gila River Arena Saturday night at 6pm.
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The big discussion item for the Coyotes is the above-pictured rookies who all made the final cut and will be playing in their initial NHL game (except for Dauphin).
The young gang is here to play
Lauren Dauphin ("Flipper"), Christian Dvorak ("Dvo"), Dylan Strome ("Stromer"), Jakob Chychrunn ("Chyc"), and Lawson Crouse ("Crash") will make their debut, except Dauphin who had played eight games last season when he was called up from the AHL Springfield Falcons.
There are some other new faces on this 20th-anniversary team.
Who are the new veterans?
Jamie McGinn is a craft forward who signed as a fee agent and has some impressive credentials. He managed to score 22 goals last season during his service with both the Buffalo Sabres and the Anaheim Ducks. He looks to be good to plant in front of the opposing net where he can do his thing getting rebounds and creating general havoc.
Then, Radim Vrbata is back again to fortify the right wing, probably on a top line consisting of Max Domi, and Martin Hanzal. Vrbata can really be a sharpshooter but needs someone to feed him the puck as Ray Whitney did during the 2011-12 season, netting him 35 goals, and 62 points. Much of his contribution led to the Coyotes' success that season leading them to the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
Ryan White was also signed to bring some toughness (101 PIM, 208 hits) to the fourth line. He will not back down from anyone and will be needed to protect the young pups just breaking into the NHL. Jamie McBain is also a newly acquired defenseman who will pair with young Jakob Chychrun. He's going into his seventh season, and is not flashy, but will get the job done, and teach Chychrun (if he needs it) the ropes. The biggest addition to helping improve this team is Alex Goligoski. His signing should help the defense become more stable and take some of the pressure off Oliver Ekman-Larsson to do it all himself.
Additionally, Luke Schenn was signed to establish a statement that GM John Chayka meant business when he said he would improve the Coyotes' defense. Schenn is huge at 6' 2", 229 pounds, and just what the team needs to play physical teams like the Flyers. When you figure into the equation of Domi and Anthony Duclair returning, and Strome and Dvorak bringing their youthful energy, the team should have a good shot at winning their first game.
To their advantage will be the Flyers play Friday night in Los Angeles, and then come here to play the Coyotes.
Flyers will be tough
The top players to watch for on the Flyers will be: Claude Giroux (22 goals, 67 points), Wayne Simmonds (32 goals, 60 points), Brayden Schenn (26 goals, 59 points), Jakub Voracek (11 goals, 55 points), and Shayne Gostisbehere (17 goals, 46 points). The last time these two teams tangled it was last March, and the Coyotes fought to a 2-1 victory. The game was very physical, and expect the Flyers to use their usual intimidation tactics to gain control of the game.
As long as the Coyotes play within their game plan, and utilize their youth and speed, they should become victorious once again.
Since it is the home opener for the Coyotes, and they were able to defeat the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last season on opening night, it makes sense (but still may not happen) for them to get past the Flyers... barely 3-2. Look for Christian Dvorak to score a goal, as well as Max Domi, and Radim Vrbata netting a power play tally.
Starting this season off with a win is practically a necessity since the Desert Dogs go on an early road trip of six games. They need to improve upon their dismal 13-24-4 record on the road last season if they intend to be in the playoffs next April.
The key to a first game win
It's gotta be Mike Smith returning to his old form, and playing tough in between the pipes. If he can get the team off on the right path in this first game, they should be alright.