It’s back-to-basics time for slumping Coyotes

You won’t catch any of the Phoenix Coyotes expressing excitement about the opportunity to play Edmonton and Calgary in the next two days.
When you’ve lost four of your last five games (1-3-1) you take nothing for granted. But this three-game trip through western Canada may be just what the doctor ordered. The Oilers and Flames occupy the bottom two spots in the Western Conference for a reason, and the Coyotes desperately need to play the simply style of hockey that coaches preach on the road.
“You go and you play a solid game where you don’t beat yourself, you don’t give the other team momentum,” coach Dave Tippett told reporters at Monday’s practice. “All areas of the game have to be done well.”
Those include puck management, defensive zone coverage, penalty killing and physical play from the blue line — all team weaknesses over the season’s first 26 games.
“I would say it’s all of the above,” Tippett told Dave Vest of “When you have a chance and you have to be physical, those are battles you have to win. When you have to move the puck well or get it down the ice on a PK those are things you have to get done. It isn’t just one little thing where you say ‘if we do this better we’ll be better.’ It’s a whole group of things.”
The Coyotes play eight of their next 10 games away from Arena, so they’ll get plenty of practice.
The Coyotes assigned defenseman Rusty Klesla to Portland of the AHL on Monday with the hope that he can get his game back in shape, particularly the physical side which the Coyotes desperately need from their blue line, but also some of the finer points like puck management and defensive zone coverage.
Klesla was recalled from Portland on Friday because he had a personal issue to deal with in the Valley. The team wanted him to be able to skate and stay in shape while he dealt with it. Klesla never actually reported to Portland after being waived on Tuesday.
General manager Don Maloney said Friday the plan was to send Klesla back this week.
“From the injury sustained in training camp and then he had a leg injury — it’s just a matter of getting up to speed,” Maloney said. “He needs to be better. We need to be better. So the question was, ‘Well, do we keep him in and out of the lineup or do we put him somewhere where he can play a lot?’
“Our intent is to get him better. He’s still a part of this team and I could see him playing for us soon.”
The Coyotes may get a chance to face former teammate Ilya Bryzgalov when they play Edmonton on Tuesday. Then again, they may not. Bryzgalov’s status is uncertain after he suffered an upper body injury in a collision with Dallas forward Ryan Garbutt.
“He took a hard hit,” coach Dallas Eakins told reporters at the team’s practice Monday. “We’ll know later in the day. If we need a goalie we’ll call up a goalie.”
That’s exactly what the Oilers did late Monday, recalling another former Coyote, Jason LaBarbera. That may be a sign that Bryzgalov isn’t ready to play.
The Coyotes will likely miss the chance to face former Phoenix center Boyd Gordon, too.
“Pick a body part right now,” Eakins said in a quote that should sound familiar to Coyotes fans. “Shoulder, knuckle, leg, back are all flared up on him right now. He’s played a lot of hard minutes and I’m doubtful that he’ll be ready to go.”
Defenseman Philip Larsen is also out of the Edmonton lineup.
Last week, Tippett said the road-heavy December schedule, with two back-to-back sets will require playing backup goalie Thomas Greiss more. Look for Greiss to play against the Flames on Wednesday in Calgary.
Forward Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (lower body) will both accompany the team on its three-game trip through western Canada. Tippett thinks Korpikoski will play at some point during the trip but he still isn’t certain about Michalek.