Coyotes to start rookie-dominated lineup against Flyers
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett can't remember the last time he started four rookies in an NHL season opener, but that will likely be the case Saturday night at Gila River Arena.
Defenseman Jakob Chychrun, center Christian Dvorak and left winger Lawson Crouse will make their NHL debuts against the Philadelphia Flyers and rookie Laurent Dauphin centers the fourth line after an eight-game NHL cameo last season.
“I could probably count on one hand how many times that's happened in my NHL career,” said Tippett, who has coached for 14 seasons and played for 12 seasons. “The biggest thing about it is those players have earned their right into the lineup. They've had good camps and they showed they could play at this level.”
One rookie who probably won't play for Arizona is 2015 first-round pick (No. 3 overall) Dylan Strome, the player the Coyotes are hoping becomes their franchise center. Strome is healthy, but he skated as an extra forward at Friday's practice. Asked if that was an indication of Strome's status for the season opener, Tippett all but confirmed it was.
“I would say there's probably a better chance that he'll watch tomorrow's game, but we'll come to that final conclusion in the morning,” Tippett said. “We've got a lot of young guys here we're going to have to integrate. You can't just throw them all out there to the wolves. We're going to make sure everybody can do their best to play their best.”
The Coyotes are trying to end a four-season playoff drought as they welcome the second wave of their youth movement that began last season with left wingers Max Domi and Jordan Martinook, right winger Anthony Duclair and backup goaltender Louis Domingue.
The Flyers are trying to build on last season's surprising playoff berth that was accomplished by going 12-5-3 in their final 20 games. To achieve that, Philadelphia hopes to avoid the slow starts that have plagued the team the last three seasons, including a 6-9-5 start last season.
“We can't put ourselves in a position where we have to battle back again,” center Claude Giroux told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think as a team, we feel more comfortable going into other buildings and getting wins.
“The first road trip is going to be really important for us. We're aware we're playing really good teams, so it's going to be a great challenge to see where we're at right away.”
Philadelphia got off on the right foot when it opened the season with a 4-2 win on Friday night in Los Angeles against the Kings to end a four-game, opening-night losing streak. In that game, Philadelphia debuted two rookies with left winger Travis Konecny (two assists) and defenseman Ivan Provorov (one assist). It was the first game of a three-game trip that ends Tuesday in Chicago against the Blackhawks.
Goalie Steve Mason is expected to start for Philadelphia against the Coyotes. Mike Smith will start in goal for Arizona.
The Flyers will be without two players because of suspensions. Defenseman Radko Gudas will miss the first six games after a high check on Boston center Austin Czarnik in the preseason. Flyers center Brayden Schenn will miss the first three games for charging Washington right winger T.J. Oshie during Game 6 of the teams' first-round playoff series last season.
Philadelphia escaped further loss when defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere suffered a facial laceration from the skate of Kings left winger Kyle Clifford in Friday's first period but returned to action.
Tippett called Coyotes left winger Jamie McGinn “a real question mark” for Saturday's game with an upper-body injury that Tippett said is not a long-term injury. McGinn did not skate on Friday.
The Coyotes will be one of just three teams that will not have played a game when Saturday's NHL action begins. Colorado and Vancouver are the others. Tippett said he got a text message from Tampa coach Jon Cooper addressing the subject: “He said, 'don't you guys ever play?'”
Saturday's game is the latest season opener in Jets-Coyotes franchise history. The Coyotes are 7-2 all time when opening the season at home.