Coyotes win battle of NHL Draft lottery-bound teams in MLK Day matinee

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Jan 17, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Janis Moser (62) celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 17, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Janis Moser (62) celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The two teams with the worst win-loss records in the NHL played a game Monday afternoon at Gila River Arena.

The Coyotes, with the league's second-lowest winning percentage, handed the NHL's bottom-dwelling Montreal Canadiens a 5-2 loss, and for the first time this season made victory look relatively easy. It was Arizona's third win in its last six games, but a large segment of Coyotes fans might have been pulling for a loss.

The team that finishes the NHL regular season with the lowest standings points total has the best chance, percentage-wise, of winning the offseason's draft lottery, and therefore the right to choose first overall.

Canadian center Shane Wright, 18, is widely considered the top prospect eligible for the upcoming draft. Talk of "tanking" for a chance to select him among teams like the Coyotes and Canadiens, who don't figure to compete for the playoffs in the near future, has been rampant since before this season.

The Canadiens (7-25-5) and Coyotes (9-24-4) are currently the two teams closest to the bottom, but one team played more like it wanted to win on Monday.

That was the Coyotes, who scored the game's first two goals and won for the third time in six games. Travis Boyd scored his eighth of the season just over five minutes into the game, and Johan Larsson made it 2-0 with his fifth goal in the past six games.

"We're both not in the position where we want to be in as teams, but we still want to bring it every night and set the bar high, make sure we're not taking any nights off just because of our positioning," Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz said.

He acknowledged that it took time to get used to head coach André Tourigny's systems, but less thinking about that and more playing has led to success.

"For us it's always a process to get better every day, and we just wanted to be the best version of ourselves again," Coyotes assistant coach Mario Duhamel said. "We knew that we had an opportunity and we could capitalize on it, and that's what we did.

"They're all proud and they all want to get better," Duhamel said of the Coyotes players. "We're getting better on the ice because the cohesion is getting there. We look faster out there."

The goal of the day belonged to rookie Janis Moser, who collected the rebound of his blocked shot, skated past defensemen into the goal are and scored from close range to give the Coyotes a 3-1 lead early in the second period.

Schmaltz, who has missed just over half the season due to injury, scored his second goal and first since Dec. 11 with 1:58 left in the second period. Antoine Roussel got his second assist of the season on a play that was challenged by Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme for goaltender interference.

The goal stood upon review, and the Coyotes took a 4-2 lead into the third period.

"He's been in the doghouse a little bit, but for the right reasoning and he understood why," Duhamel said of Schmaltz. "Schmaltzie's a big piece of our core today, but also the future. So we want to make sure we develop him in the right way."

Keller finished things off with an empty-net goal for a two-point night, Schmaltz had two assists and Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka made 24 saves.

Roussel was aware of how Monday's game was being looked at through a national audience lens as the race for the very bottom of the NHL standings.

"We know where we're at, we know where the other teams are in the standings," Roussel said. "You see a team that you can have a real good chance (of beating), you run with it and you don't give them any air to breathe. It felt like that's what we did."

Roussel said he is still sensing full effort from the players for the Coyotes' coaching staff, and used Keller's improved play as an example.

Rem Pitlick and Ryan Poehling scored for Montreal, which trailed by one three times but could never equalize. The Canadiens have fallen flat after making the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and lost their sixth straight game.

Former Coyotes center Christian Dvorak returned to play against his old team for the first time since being traded to Montreal for draft picks in the offseason.

'Bear' track

Duhamel, himself having recently been in COVID-19 protocol, got his chance to speak after the game, with Tourigny not yet cleared to return. Phil Housley, Cory Stillman and Duhamel have addressed the media the past four games.

Duhamel said the Coyotes continue to play with pride, never really alluding to losing or playing badly to improve draft position.

Up next

The Coyotes open a four-game East Coast road trip at New Jersey on Wednesday. They are 4-11-3 on the road this season. Other opponents on the trip are the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Get in touch with Jose Romero at Jose.Romero@gannett.com. Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Coyotes win battle of NHL teams with worst records over Montreal Canadiens