Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky praised his club’s maturity after it opened the season with consecutive wins for the first time since 2003-04. The second-youngest team in the NHL, however, played more like it in its first loss.
The Coyotes look to bounce back from their first defeat as they visit the Ottawa Senators on Friday night.
Phoenix (2-1-0) notched two-goal victories in its first two games of 2008-09, earning the praise of Gretzky and prompting speculation that the young Coyotes could be improved enough to end their five-year playoff drought.
High expectations were tempered, however, with the team’s 4-1 road loss to previously winless Chicago on Wednesday night. Peter Mueller put the Coyotes on top 1-0 early in the second period before the defense fell apart.
“We played too easy of a game,” Gretzky said. “After a period and a half, we started to cheat a little bit. If you cheat, you’re going to get beat at this level.”
Gretzky feels the team’s response to its first defeat will be a true test of its maturity.
“Maybe it’s sort of a wakeup (call) in the sense that we’ve still got 79 games to go and there are a lot of good teams at this level,” he told the team’s official Web site.
The Coyotes played for nearly 55 minutes with only five defensemen after Derek Morris injured his hand during a fight.
“He’s one of the best defensemen in the league … and it was a big loss to the team,” forward Kyle Turris said. “We tried working through it, but it’s a big hole to fill.”
The Coyotes may have to fill that hole for a while longer. Though Morris told the team’s Web site he could probably play Friday, the Coyotes will likely decide to rest him a few days.
The Senators (1-1-1) have their own injury problems. Captain Daniel Alfredsson missed the team’s home opener on Saturday because he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee the previous day to remove a bone chip. He was expected to miss at least two weeks, but made a quicker-than-expected return to the ice for practice this week and is questionable for Friday.
“We’ll see. I’m not going to commit to anything today,” he said Thursday. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow again. I’ll skate tomorrow morning and go from there.”
In Alfredsson’s absence, Dany Heatley was the Senators’ acting captain last Saturday. Heatley recorded an assist on Alexandre Picard’s first-period goal and Ottawa took a 2-1 lead into the third before giving up two scores in the final 10 minutes of a 3-2 loss to Detroit.
The Senators had six days off between that game and Friday’s meeting with the Coyotes, a break coach Craig Hartsburg hopes doesn’t distract his team.
“Your biggest fear after having such a layoff is that other teams are in that competitive mode,” Hartsburg told the team’s official Web site Wednesday. “Today and tomorrow, we’ve got to get ourselves ready to compete in a real hockey game again.”
Playing the next four games at home likely won’t hurt. The Senators were 22-15-4 at Scotiabank Place in 2007-08.
“The importance of points at this time of year is huge,” Hartsburg said. “We’ve got to make sure that during this homestand, we’re focused on that. We’ve got to start getting that game mentality on for Friday.”
Ottawa won its only meeting with Phoenix last season, getting two goals from Mike Fisher in a 4-2 road victory March 8. That was Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s only career game against the Senators, while Ottawa’s Martin Gerber is 1-1-1 with a 2.03 goals-against average in four career appearances against the Coyotes.