By Sam Brennan for Somos Sports
GLENDALE, Ariz. — After a rollercoaster-like season last year, the Arizona Coyotes are new, improved and poised to make a statement during the upcoming NHL season.
The team struggled to find consistency last year but finished on a high note. Now for the 2018-2019 season a clear goal is defined, and a mission stated for the team.
The message was constant among all the players at the Coyotes’ annual Media Day Thursday; the necessity of getting off to a fast start.
The Coyotes started the 2017-2018 season 0-11. By New Year’s Eve, the Coyotes had a record of 9 wins and 32 losses.
In his first season as the Coyotes’ head coach, things did not look promising for Rick Tocchet.
“We had a lot of adversity last year,” Tocchet said.
Goaltender Antti Raanta struggled most of the season with injuries.
“Everybody was sick and tired of losing games,” Raanta said. “I think we kind of hit rock bottom there in December.”
As the year went on for the Coyotes things began clicking. After the All-Star break, the Coyotes finished the season with a winning record of 17-15.
“We were a tough team to beat at the end of the year,” Raanta said.
Now all the Coyotes need is for the success they had at the end of last season to carry it over to the beginning of this season.
“We just need to find a way to be that kind of team from Day 1,” Raanta said.
It doesn’t sound like the Coyotes will have any issues rekindling the energy they had at the end of last season. Team captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson — he was named to that post on Thursday — said the players are eager for the new campaign.
“There is a lot of excitement around here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “Everybody wants to get going.”
There is no lack of excitement for the season to begin, but there also seems to be a confidence in the ability of the team to improve upon last year.
“What we are building here I think is going to be a big thing,” Raanta said. “If everybody is healthy, I think we are top in the league.”
While the team benefits from youth and pure talent, Veterans like Derek Stepan and Ekman-Larsson are trying to communicate the message of why the team experienced success at the end of last season.
According to Stepan the message to his teammates is simply work hard.
“It’s easy to lose but it takes a lot of hard work to win,” Stepan said.
Many young players such as Christian Dvorak and Christian Fischer began seeing things click towards the back end of the season.
“We know we have a talented group, but we also need to realize that why we were successful the second half was because we worked hard,” Ekmann-Larsson said.
While the young staples of the team continue to improve, the Coyotes added some pieces to its roster to make an immediate impact.
“With all the moves we made in the summer time it just made our team stronger. I think we have more scoring now,” Raanta said.
That scoring will be expected to come from Alex Galchenyuk.
Galchenyuk was acquired in an offseason trade in which the Coyotes sent Max Domi to Montreal. The Coyotes will look to Galchenyuk for a boost in offense.
“He’s a goal scorer and we need to score more goals,” Stepan said.
The team’s confidence and excitement for the new season can be seen as admirable. The Coyotes organization is trying to make the necessary moves to be competitive and find its way back to the postseason.
Arizona opens its season on Thursday, October 4 in Dallas against the Stars.