Something we like to do around here at Defector is congratulate our beloved Ottawa Senators whenever they manage to embarrass a superior opponent and pilfer a win in their own Sensy way, usually because a young player with a name I might be making up arrives from out of nowhere to be the hero, stealing a game-winner on a night where his boys are getting outshot, like, 47-16.
With that in mind, here, from Ottawa last night, is a 24 year old named LAWSON CROUSE poking a pass out of his own zone while on the penalty kill, then chasing it down the ice to pick it up on a breakaway and beat the goalie to complete a hat trick and attain a 3-2 lead, all while his team is being outshot 30-9.
It has all the makings of a perfect Ottawa Senators moment. Except it was perpetrated on the Senators by the damn Arizona Coyotes, in a game they’d go on to win 5-3.
On Monday, the eyes of the NHL were forced, Clockwork Orange-style, onto a contest between two teams with fewer combined wins than a couple of top teams have on their own. Literally, there were no other games on the schedule. And those who couldn’t help themselves saw the Coyotes rise to the occasion by … well, kind of getting their asses kicked up and down the ice (expected goals in this one were 5.05-2.72 in favor of Ottawa), but absorbing just enough pressure to convert on counterattacks whenever the Sens let their guard down. Scott Wedgewood, a waivers castoff from New Jersey at the start of this year, made 40 saves. Nick Schmaltz scored the surprising game-winner in the third while the PA announcer was still running down the Connor Brown goal that tied it. And the Sens, like a few of their former opponents, were left kicking themselves, wondering how they let these two points get away.
“I think there was a stretch over 20-some minutes that they didn’t have a shot, and we’ve got to find ways to score and our power play can’t give up a shorthanded goal,” Sens coach D.J. Smith said afterwards. “We tie it in the third after having the puck the whole time and we make a real careless play and you lose the game.”
“It definitely sucks, it’s not a good feeling right now,” said team captain Brady Tkachuk. “It’s one of the most dominant games we’ve played all year, so it sucks that we didn’t get rewarded. Definitely this one is going to sting.”
But the Coyotes, dare I say it, might be riding a bit of a high right now, at least by their own lowly standards. Back on March 3, another Schmaltz winner lifted them over the freaking Colorado Avalanche, as Karel Vejmelka stopped 42 of 43 in net. The following Saturday they won a wacky one against these same Sens at home, surrendering a 4-0 lead and then coming back from down 5-4 to finally win 8-5. Last Tuesday they absolutely demolished the Red Wings in Detroit, 9-2. And then, before a loss to Boston ended their little win streak, they went up 4-1 against Toronto and then gutted out a 5-4 overtime win that infuriated Auston Matthews because of a no-call in the final moments.
Let me be clear: You do not have to hand it to the Arizona Coyotes. They still sit second-to-last in the Western Conference and will miss the playoffs for the ninth time in the last 10 years. They’re the fourth-worst team in the NHL at scoring goals, and the fifth-worst at allowing them. Despite the constant losing, they’ve rarely landed in prime draft position—sometimes through bad luck but oftentimes through poor trading or other problems of their own making. And they’re still committed to the bit that they’re going to play their games next year at a 5,000-cap college rink, because they somehow think that’s less embarrassing than admitting this is a failed franchise and moving elsewhere.
But … well … they’ve won a few more games in this most recent stretch than they have at any other point in the season! And for the few Arizona fans who remain optimistic about this team, and for the other folks who get stuck with their games on TV when there are no other options, winning these games isn’t nothing. The Coyotes have been flashing glimpses of fun hockey, and even if, at this point in the year, it’s counterproductive to the franchise’s long-term outlook, it’s still good for a few hours of entertainment. And if my Ottawa Senators sickness has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you can trick yourself into believing that the wins in March mean just as much as the wins in June.