Early intrigue on Coyotes' condensed schedule

Coyotes get Stars, Blackhawks early, but real story of schedule is how condensed it really is.

With the release of the Coyotes' schedule (and the rest of the NHL's), here are some thoughts on this lockout-abbreviated, 48-game slate.

We kept writing the words “condensed schedule,” throughout the lockout, but until you see it in front of you, you don’t realize just how condensed it is.

The Coyotes get four days off between games on Feb. 18 (Calgary at home) and Feb. 23 (Edmonton on the road) and three days between games on March 21 (Vancouver) and March 24 (Detroit). Other than that, there are no greater gaps than two days in between games, and the Coyotes will play eight sets of back-to-back games (that's one-third of the schedule).

How will that impact the team? First, the glut of games over a short period of time will take a toll on the players’ bodies, raising the possibility of injuries and giving an advantage to the teams that have better depth.

Second, the condensed schedule cuts down on potential practice time to correct mistakes, bad trends and even install new ideas. Coach Dave Tippett and his staff will have to balance concerns about fatigue with keeping the team in lockstep with his philosophies. That’s no easy task.

Phoenix opens in Dallas on Jan. 19, creating an immediate reunion with last season’s leading point man, Ray Whitney, who signed with the Stars in the offseason. Whitney’s first game at Jobing.com Arena comes Feb. 2.

The home opener will be Jan. 20 against the Chicago Blackhawks, who the Coyotes knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. Speaking of knockouts, Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa should be on the ice for the first time since Coyotes forward Raffi Torres knocked him out with a blow to the head that earned him a 25-game suspension that was later reduced to a 21-game ban. Torres still has eight more games to serve on that suspension, so the first time the two players might meet is Feb. 20 at Jobing.com Arena.

The Coyotes get their first look at the Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings on Jan. 26. The Kings eliminated the Coyotes in the Western Conference final, a series that ended in controversy when Kings captain Dustin Brown laid out former Coyote Michal Rozsival (now with Chicago) with what some believe was an illegal hit to Rozsival's knee.

The Coyotes’ first meeting with the Nashville Predators, their second-round playoff victim, comes Jan. 28 at Jobing.com Arena. The always-popular Detroit Red Wings pay two visits to Jobing.com on March 25 and April 4.

In one of those bizarre, lockout-created realities, Phoenix plays Anaheim three times in a row between March 2-6.

Because of the condensed schedule and the desire to reduce travel, the Coyotes do not play any games against teams from the Eastern Conference. The season ends April 27 in Anaheim. The playoffs begin the first week of May, nearly three weeks later than last season.

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