Czeching out of the desert
It's inching closer and closer to Premiere time. The Phoenix Coyotes have packed everyone (literally everyone. Eight defensemen plus third-string goaltender Al Montoya have been included on a "just in case" basis) into a plane, and in less than a week's time they will face off against the Boston Bruins at Prague's O2 Arena to start the season.
Let's have a look at those names:
Biz--err, Paul Bissonnette
Offensive Verdict: #TeamTurris won over #KyleWellwoodIsSoFat supporters and not for nothing. Turris proved he's ready for prime time, scoring two goals and one assist in four preseason contests and generally kicking...butt. Only Shane Doan made more appearances on the scoresheet. Meanwhile, Ray Whitney has also looked good for the Coyotes, he who was acquired over the summer to bring experience to the offensive brigade and to most especially help chase away the elephant in the room: a power play that ranked 28th in the league last season. Collectively, they may have to count on the D to help them out in the scoring department again, but there may yet be room for a few scoring surprises this season. Keep Scottie Upshall, Lee Stempniak and Martin Hanzal on your watch lists, and you'd best not exclude Hanzal's countrymen Prucha and Vrbata as well.
Blueline Report: In the absence of Zbynek Michalek, there are a lot of minutes and a lot of shot-blocking duties that need to be filled this season. The Coyotes have more than enough young bodies willing to do just that. Prospects Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Maxim Goncharov each showed they have the presence and the readiness to take on such a task, and David Schlemko is looking to stick around this year after gaining a little bit of experience (17 games) last season. Returnee Keith Yandle had the most shots on goal for his team in the Least Surprising Statistic Category this preseason. Adrian Aucoin wasn't tested on the shootout just yet, but once again ate a lot of minutes with fellow veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Those two will likely be the least bored members of the team again this season.
And Between the Pipes: Also not bored will be Ilya Bryzgalov, he who is due to get the bulk of the work again in 2010-11. However, it's worth noting that he has a steady support system in backup Jason LaBarbera, who has proven he's not shy to take on even the tougher opponents the Western Conference has to offer when Bryz is in need of a break. For his part, Al Montoya won his lone preseason start, letting in only one goal in sixty minutes. He will surely benefit from the Prague experience whether he sees action or not.
The Coyotes will close out their preseason this Wednesday in Riga, Latvia, where they will take on Dinamo Riga and a couple of notables in their ex-goaltender Mikael Tellqvist, along with ex-Habs prospects Juraj Mikus and Brock Trotter. The stream will be broadcast on NHL.com this Wednesday at noon (Eastern), and coverage of the Prague trip has already gotten into full swing.