GLENDALE, Ariz. — San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer and Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett endured similar challenges early this season.
Both had a group of players report late to training camp after playing in the World Cup of Hockey. Both played one home game before embarking on lengthy road trips — the Sharks for five games, the Coyotes for six.
“I think our five-game road trip was a little bit of a reflection of the lack of preparation we had with the group,” DeBoer said Monday after practice at Gila River Arena as his team readied to face the Coyotes on Tuesday.
“We had seven guys away, so we didn't get a chance to get our group together for very long. We really only had one exhibition game where we actually had our group together and maybe a couple practices.”
The difference for DeBoer is that he coaches a veteran-laden, star-studded team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final last season. Tippett coaches a team with four rookies and four second-year players on its 22-man roster.
That gap is reflected in the standings. San Jose entered Tuesday's game with a 6-3 record, in second place in the Pacific Division, and Arizona was 2-6, in last place in the Pacific and NHL standings.
“The surprising one for me is our record,” Tippett said. “I expected us to be better than this. These close games, those are the frustrating ones because we should be finding ways to get more points than we have.”
The Coyotes' last four losses have all been one-goal games, with New Jersey adding an empty-net goal with 14 seconds remaining to win 5-3 on Oct. 25 at Prudential Center.
With so much youth in the lineup, along with four new faces added in free agency, Tippett is still tinkering with his lines to find the right mix.
That tinkering continued Monday when the Coyotes assigned rookie center Christian Dvorak to Tucson of the American Hockey League to make room for 2015 first-round pick (No. 3 overall) Dylan Strome, who has played in just three games this season.
Arizona has three junior-eligible players on whom it must make decisions soon. Per the CHL-NHL agreement, junior-eligible players can only play nine games in the NHL before teams must engage the first year of their entry-level deals or send them back to their junior clubs. In addition to Strome, defenseman Jakob Chychrun has played seven games and left winger Lawson Crouse has played five.
“Optionality is a good thing so I'm not going to close any options; that's for sure,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said when asked about plans for those players. “You're trying to balance what's best for the players and their long-term needs with the needs of the team and where that player is in all of that.
“You've got to define exactly what it is that player needs to play at the NHL level and excel and be the player you drafted or acquired him to be. Then you ask what's the best place for that development to occur. Some things are better served to be worked on in the NHL; some things are better served to be worked on in juniors.”
San Jose is more concerned with fine-tuning than major roster decisions. While much of the team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final is back, DeBoer is still trying to find a home for free-agent signing Mikkel Boedker, a former Coyote who signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Sharks in the summer.
“It's always tough to find skill guys the right kind of chemistry and sometimes it's not even finding the right chemistry, it's letting that chemistry develop, keeping him with the same guys,” DeBoer said.
Boedker, who has just one goal in nine games, began the year playing on a line with center Logan Couture and left winger Joonas Donskoi. Now he is playing on the top line with center Joe Thornton and right winger Joe Pavelski.
“You've got to get accustomed to it and they've got to get accustomed to the way I play,” Boedker said. “Big Joe is an amazing player and Pavs is a goal scorer, so you've got to fill in where you need to fill in. I guess on that line it will be a lot of hunting the pucks down and making sure I get it to them and then going in and making sure I create some room.”
Martin Jones is expected to make his fifth straight start in goal for San Jose. Louis Domingue will start for Arizona in place of injured starter Mike Smith (left leg).
Smith skated on his own for the first time since suffering the injury on Oct. 18 in Ottawa and is still listed as week to week. Arizona defenseman Michael Stone is also questionable for Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury suffered Thursday in Philadelphia.