Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet quoted veteran NHL coach John Tortorella after Thursday’s practice, echoing sentiments about confidence and how it can affect certain players and their performance on the ice.
“A wise man, John Tortorella says, ‘I can’t buy confidence for you; I can’t go to a store and buy confidence,’” Tocchet said. “I can try to help you, but confidence comes from yourself if you do the right things.”
According to Tocchet, that has been the case for Dylan Strome and a contributing factor for the proficient stretch of performances he has put together to open the 2018-19 season.
Not only did Strome mercifully end the Coyotes’ scoring drought at 17:33 of the first period in a game Arizona won, 3-2, via shootout on Wednesday in Anaheim, but Strome has made enough strides in his overall game that Tocchet gave the 21-year-old some added responsibility on Wednesday that could continue in the future.
“He’s looking for the consistency in his game,” Tocchet said. “And that’s probably the hardest thing for a young player to do. It’s hard to keep doing that. We all know it’s hard to stop on the puck, but when you do it all the time, it becomes habit. That’s what we’ve been trying to train him to do.”
Tocchet said he’s been impressed with Strome’s body positioning, hockey IQ and his willingness to step up when called upon. The coach pointed out a specific moment that stuck out to him during Wednesday’s game.
After Derek Stepan was sent to the penalty box for tripping at 16:06 of the second period, the Coyotes were without a center on the second penalty-kill unit. Instead of double-shifting Brad Richardson, Tocchet scanned his bench for a candidate to take a key faceoff in the Coyotes’ defensive zone.
He instantly met the gaze of Strome, who was itching to get back on the ice.
“I said, ‘Get out there and take the draw for us,’” Tocchet said. “And he won the draw and got it out. That’s a big play. People don’t realize if Anaheim wins the draw, we have to defend (in our on zone). But if we get it out, we get the matchup we like and we want out there.
“I’ve got to give (Dylan) a lot of credit because he looked at me and he wanted the job. He wasn’t sinking back there like, ‘Don’t pick me, coach.’ He wanted that moment. That’s the stuff I want to see from him.”
Strome was also a standout on the man-advantage for the Coyotes, stepping in on the team’s first power-play unit and sneaking a shot through the five-hole of Ducks goaltender John Gibson to give the Coyotes their first goal in 137 minutes and 33 seconds of play this season.
“I think everyone was just a little bit relieved,” Strome said of the goal. “You don’t ever want to start a season two games without a goal, but I think everyone stayed calm and stayed relaxed. We knew we were going to score eventually and that it was just a matter of time.”
Tocchet said he and Strome got inspiration on the goal-scoring play from Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who is known for scoring power-play goals on his forehand side.
According to Tocchet, Strome watched a lot of video on Matthews and Tocched said he would design a similar play for Strome on the Coyotes’ power play. As the result showed, it worked to perfection.
“It’s something that we’ve worked on,” Tocchet said. “He’s usually on the second unit, but I just had a feeling that I wanted Dylan on that side, and I talked to him the last couple days that we were going to get him the puck on that forehand side. We talked about Auston Matthews scoring a ton of power-play goals on that side.”
Strome, who also finished with a 71-percent success rate in the faceoff circle, was rewarded for his play by logging a career-high 17:28 of ice time. He only recorded one shot (his power-play goal in the first period), but Tocchet said he saw the various areas of the game that Strome was affecting and kept rolling him out there.
“I think it’s the most I’ve ever played in a game,” said Strome, who tallied eight points in his final 10 games last season. “Obviously it felt pretty good. When you’re kind of in a groove, I think the coaches realize that and then it’s just about trying to win the draws and not get scored on.
“You kind of keep hoping your name gets called, and it was, so I was just trying to play some hockey and have some fun.”
Josh Archibald (upper body) has been cleared for contact and practiced with the Coyotes on Thursday at Gila River Arena. He could conceivably suit up for Saturday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, per Tocchet. … Christian Dvorak (lower body) and Jakob Chychrun (knee) also practiced with the team but are not yet cleared for contact. … Alex Galchenyuk (lower body) has not yet skated with the team and continues to rehab on his own.