The preseason in any sport is usually an afterthought, an extra step to in the way of games that count. It does play an important role thought, from allowing veterans to get their bodies ready for game speed, to giving young and fringe players to give one last showcase in their bid for an opening-night roster spot.
Sure, the fans and media would love for a fast-forward option through the game assessment portion prior to the regular season. It truly serves a purpose for all 31 NHL organizations, and is a luxury that was taken away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams will not be traveling outside of its facilities for ice time until the regular season begins on January 13, meaning players are going to have to get game-ready against their own teammates. The Arizona Coyotes have been using scrimmages as the way to find its game pace, running through two intra-squad exhibitions on Wednesday and Friday.
Playing against friends and teammates is not the ideal way to be ready for an intense, physical contest come January 14. Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet does not want his players to kill each other in these scrimmages, but there does need to be a certain level of intensity and focus.
“I explained to the players, I don’t want guys killing guys, but you have to be competitive,” Tocchet said. “You have to push the pace…it’s okay to have a little collision. You have to be competitive, that’s the only way to get better.”
Derek Brassard could not get on the ice with his new teammates until the scrimmage on Wednesday due to NHL protocol regarding joining a new team. His first time on the ice with his new teammates was in a game situation, and Brassard thinks the absence of a preseason will show during the regular slate of games.
“The fact that we’re not playing preseason games, I think that’s going to have a huge effect on the first ten games of the season,” Brassard said. “We have to be ready to play from game one against San Jose.”
Getting ready for an NHL game experience is more than driving to the net and battling for pucks in the corner. The entire game day experience – the intermissions, the ice cuts, the music, the TV timeouts – all play into the flow of a regular season contest. The team attempted to re-create that scenario the best they can, and the players noticed the important nuances in the scrimmages.
“It’s basically our tune-up for the regular season,” Coyotes center Christian Dvorak said. “It’s good to get those TV timeouts and intermissions, make it feel like a real game.”
Going against the same faces can become tiring after awhile, especially when trying to prepare for an entire season that way. Each team is facing similar difficult and grinding situations, but Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson notes it is important to have a positive outlook.
“It’s hard right now, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun being on the ice with the guys,” Ekman-Larsson said. We’re battling and working on our game.”
Tocchet mentioned the possibility of a scrimmage on Monday, which is just two days prior to the start of the season. The determination of final rosters and taxi squad will be made in the days leading up to the season opener, meaning a Monday intra-squad matchup could be the final chance for players to make a case to stay for the unique year ahead.