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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — It will be out with the new and in with the old for the Arizona Coyotes this season.
After two fruitless years of trying to boost their scoring punch, the Coyotes are going back to the down-in-the-trenches, outwork-your-opponent ways that had been the cornerstone of their previous success.
"We may have lost a little on pure talent, proven talent, but we brought in some people who are going to fit into the chemistry mix, that junkyard dog, hang-around-games-find-a-way-to-win mentality," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "And that's how we have to be right now."
Since Dave Tippett was hired in 2009, the Coyotes have fit the mold of their defensive-minded coach, relying on a pack-it-in-mentality, good goaltending and a counterpunching offense.
Arizona ran Tippett's system well, earning three straight playoff berths — all without an owner — including a trip to the 2012 Western Conference finals.
In the two seasons after that surprising run, the Coyotes tried to find ways to boost their offensive output, including the big-ticket signing of forward Mike Ribeiro before last season.
None of it worked.
The Coyotes were inconsistent with their defense-first approach and Ribeiro was a bust, his contract bought out by the team during the offseason after he struggled with inconsistency on the ice and personal problems off it.
This offseason, there were no splashy signings like the Ribeiro deal. Instead, Arizona picked up gritty, hard-working guys who fit their system, like Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale and B.J. Crombeen.
Now it's back to the lunch pail for the blue-collared desert dogs
"We need to be a very competitive team night in and night out and that's what our goal will be," Tippett said.
A few more things to look for from the Coyotes, who open the season with four straight home games, starting Oct. 9 against Winnipeg.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Arizona has been reluctant to thrust young players into important roles in the past, preferring to let them gain experience in the minors before giving them a shot with the big club. The Coyotes seem to be more willing to give the young guys a chance this season, in part because of competition within the team, but also because of the talent they have. Players like Henrik Samuelsson, Tobias Rieder and Tyler Gaudet will not start the season with the Coyotes, but there's a good chance they'll be called up and play.
SMITH'S HEALTH: As goalie Mike Smith goes, so do the Coyotes, particularly now that they're trying to get back to a more defensive style of hockey. Smith carried Arizona at times during its run to the Western Conference finals. He suffered a groin injury in the third game of the strike-shortened 2012-13 season and wasn't nearly as consistent as the year before. The Coyotes were still in position for a playoff spot last season, but Smith missed the final 10 games with a knee injury and Arizona fell two points short of the playoffs. Healthy again, Smith and the Coyotes are hoping he can get back to being one of the league's elite goalies.
SCORING LOAD: So now that the Coyotes are turning back the defensive clock, the question comes up again: Where will the offense come from? Arizona lost top-line winger Radim Vrbata, the team's leading scorer two years ago, and Ribeiro, who had 47 points despite his struggles last season. Arizona is hoping Gagner can fill some of the scoring load after a change of scenery. The 24-year-old had five straight 40-point seasons with Edmonton before his production dropped off slightly the past two years.
THE DOANER: Captain Shane Doan got off to one of the best starts of his career last season, but missed 12 games after contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and had to work his way back into shape even after he returned. Doan still finished second on the team with 24 goals, but worked relentlessly on his conditioning over the summer and reported to camp in great shape. At 37, he's still an offensive force and the catalyst for the Coyotes.
BLUE-LINE SCORERS: Arizona's roster still includes two of the best offensive defensemen in the league. Keith Yandle led the Coyotes with 53 points last season and Oliver Ekman-Larsson added 44 points, including 15 goals. They also helped Arizona's power play, which was fourth in in the league in efficiency after struggling in previous seasons. Ekman-Larsson is a solid two-way player as well, but Yandle said he wants to be better in Arizona's end.
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