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It would have been a good storyline had the Coyotes defeated Philadelphia at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday to snap a nine-game winless streak to start the season. That’s where the 2017-18 team snapped its 11-game winless streak to complete the season with a 29-31-11 run.
It didn’t happen for this season’s Coyotes, despite a strong first half of the game, great goaltending from Karel Vejmelka, and numerous scoring chances. If the Coyotes can’t beat the Ducks on Friday night in Anaheim, they would tie that 2017-18 Coyotes team for the longest winless streak to start a season in franchise history. They would also tie three other teams (1995-96 San Jose Sharks, 1973-74 Minnesota North Stars, 1927-28 Pittsburgh Pirates) for second place in the NHL record books, four games behind the 1943-44 New York Rangers, who went winless in 15 to start the season.
“It does hurt,” Coyotes coach André Tourigny told Bally Sport Arizona’s Todd Walsh after the loss to the Flyers. “I see the guys right now and the coaches. We’re frustrated. We need to find a way to get that first win and get the ball rolling.”
Getting that first win is the obvious goal, and games against the Ducks and the Seattle Kraken (Saturday), two of the NHL’s weaker teams, offer opportunities this weekend. The challenge is keeping the belief alive within the players that better days are ahead; to keep them fighting.
“You try everything, really,” said former Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers, who was on that 2017-18 team. “You try to get mad, you try to be positive, you try to get on each other. You just try to find something that works, but it’s really important that you stick together. Guys just can’t turn into individuals because at the end of the day, you’re all in it together and that’s how you’re going to get out of it.
“It’s a league where no one’s gonna feel sorry for you anyway, so if you sit there and wallow in it and kind of feel bad for yourself, it’s only going to get worse.”
Both teams had a chance to get their first win early in the season. This season’s team went to a shootout in the second game of the season in Buffalo before falling. The 2017-18 team had a 4-1 lead with five minutes remaining in the second period, before some defensive breakdowns and poor goaltending from Louis Domingue led to a 5-4 Ducks win. In the following game, Arizona lost to Vegas, 2-1, in overtime.
“We had a young team then,” former assistant coach Scott Allen said. “It was Clayton Keller’s first full year in the league and a lot of the other guys were young guys with a sprinkling of pretty good veterans. If we were to come out and get that first win under our belts early, I think that’s all it would have taken. Then everybody would have been feeling good about themselves and confidence is a big factor in this game for sure. That’s how you start building some momentum.”
Losing is hard on more than the players and fans. It’s hard on the coaches. Rick Tocchet was in his first season as the Coyotes’ coach. He had been granted another chance after a difficult task in Tampa and he was anxious to prove that he could turn his former franchise around.
“Those are situations that really challenge you,” Tocchet said. “You start to question yourself. ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ Every loss adds pressure because then everyone starts mentioning the streaks. Now you’re third all-time. Now your second. It mounts and it’s really hard to keep your conviction and withstand all of that. There’s a lot of noise around you when you lose but the worst thing you can do is question yourself.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t tweak things or take opinions from your staff or whoever but it’s about just staying within — and I know this is one of the most overused words — the process.”
The 2017-18 Coyotes finally ended the streak in Philadelphia, but it came in dramatic fashion. They built a 3-0 lead early in the third period on Brendan Perlini’s power-play goal, but the Flyers got one back less than a minute later on a Sean Couturier power-play goal. The Flyers then scored twice in the final minute of play to force overtime.
“I gotta tell ya’, we were just in disbelief,” Tocchet said.
Disbelief turned to elation when defenseman Alex Goligoski buried a feed from Clayton Keller with 14.4 seconds remaining in overtime to end the drama and the streak with a 4-3 victory.
“It felt like we won the Cup, to be honest with you,” Demers said. “It was amazing in the room after that game and then we lost the next game and we were right back in it, but that’s what these guys need to think about and focus on. It’s gonna feel so good when they put that full game together and get that first win. I think they’re gonna win one of the next few games. I think Anaheim and Seattle are two teams that they can beat.
“I was around some of those guys and everybody that’s played with those guys is rooting for them. They’re not the first people to go through this and they won’t be the last. It might feel like the world is ending but it’s just a game. You’ve got to just relax a bit, stop gripping so tight and just have a little fun because it’s something that they’ll be laughing about in five years.”
In a bizarre twist of fate, the 2021-22 Coyotes claimed goaltender Scott Wedgewood off waivers from the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. The 2017-18 Coyotes made the same move and Wedgewood was the goalie in net when the Coyotes finally ended that 11-game winless streak in Philadelphia. Wedgewood was in Los Angeles at the time of Thursday’s transaction because the Devils play the Kings on Friday. He will join the team in Anaheim.
In other roster moves, the Coyotes recalled forward Ben McCartney and re-assigned goalie Ivan Prosvetov to Tucson to get him more playing time away from the difficult NHL environment. Defenseman Kyle Capobianco also practiced with the team. Capobianco has been sidelined with a lower-body injury.
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