It certainly didn’t come easy for the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. The team’s mettle was tested repeatedly against the Anaheim Ducks, absorbing punch after punch en route to a 4-3 win in its final preseason home game. Despite falling behind twice, 2-1 and 3-2, the Coyotes clawed back into it, and it was a familiar face that led the charge.
Who else, but Arizona’s rock, Jakob Chychrun?
The 23-year-old defenseman broke out last season with 41 points in 56 games, and if Saturday’s performance was any indication, he’s ready to pick up right where he left off.
Chychrun, Eriksson Fuel Coyotes’ Strong Effort
Yes, Arizona’s 3-0 start this preseason can’t be taken as absolute truth, but in the same breath, the team certainly can’t be faulted for its stellar start. Saturday’s game featured a little bit of everything, and after Chychrun put the Coyotes up with just 10 seconds left in the first period, it sure looked like they would coast to a second-straight win over Anaheim.
Then, in the second period, the Ducks scored two goals in just 47 seconds, and the Coyotes appeared to be in trouble, as Anaheim had the lead and all of the momentum. Just over two minutes later, though, Johan Larsson tied it up. The game followed an almost identical script in the third after Loui Eriksson tied the game again, which was just four minutes after the Ducks had taken the lead.
Chychrun (2 goals) and Eriksson (1 goal, 1 assist) both finished with two points, as did defenseman Conor Timmins (2 assists). Coach André Tourigny was pleased with how the team responded, especially since he didn’t feel the need to send a message after the quick back-to-back Anaheim goals.
“When they scored those two quick goals, we had guys pop on the bench and talk to the group, and not in a panic mode, just ‘Hey boys, we’ve got this, we’ll be back at it, just make sure we keep our composure,'” Tourigny said. “You could see the next shift we were right back at it, and we scored.”
The team’s response wasn’t by accident. Chychrun highlighted the importance of what the team’s mentality is this season, and what the key was to even the game.
“Those next shifts after goals, whether it’s a goal for, or a goal against, are always crucial,” he said. “I think tonight we did a good job, if we got scored on, the next shift we simplified. We got back to being strong at the blue lines, going on our forecheck, and playing our system.”
Chychrun led by example, too. His 23:50 Time on Ice led all skaters, and his goal with 5:52 remaining in the third period — an absolute rocket during a delayed penalty — put the Coyotes up for good. He chipped in two hits and a blocked shot on the night, and overall is excited about how the team has bonded in such a short amount of time.
“That doesnt happen overnight.” he said. “It’s something that we’re really working at. I think this camp has been the best training camp I’ve seen since I’ve been here — in terms of work ethic, intensity in practice, and attention to detail — so I think this group is really taking those necessary steps to turn things around here.”
Chychrun and Anton Stralman Clicking As Top Pair
Another thing evident in Saturday’s game was that despite having limited time together in both practice and game scenarios, Chychrun and Anton Stralman have the potential to be one of the best defensive pairings in the league.
Tourigny was impressed with the duo’s debut together, and it’s likely they’ll play together in the regular season.
“Those two guys were strong on pucks, strong on battles, they have skill, and can make plays,” Tourigny said. “They have good execution. Obviously [Chychrun] has brought a lot of offense, but [Stralman], as well as poise in his game, he has a top process.”
The 35-year-old Stralman has 14 years of NHL experience, with stops in Tampa Bay, New York (Rangers), Toronto, Columbus, and Florida. He’s got 270 points in 856 career games, and seemed to fit nicely with Chychrun on Saturday.
“He’s got a lot of tools to be a great player in this league,” Stralman said of Chychrun. “It’s not easy, so I think we’ll work on it, and if we keep playing together I would love that opportunity. I think we can balance off each other a little bit.”
Chychrun, for his part, agreed.
“I think the communication is already there, [Stralman] is such a great guy, and he is a guy that has played a long time in this league, on a lot of really good teams,” Chychrun said. “I have been lucky to play with a few guys like that, and I think it would be great if we were able to get a good thing going — some chemistry going — and hopefully we can build on one another, and continue to get better together.”
Up Next For The Coyotes
There’s no rest for the weary, as the Coyotes head to El Paso, Texas on Sunday to face the Dallas Stars in the Kraft Hockeyville game at 6 pm Arizona Time. They then close out their preseason schedule with road dates against the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights next Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.