Having traded away their first-round pick in this year's draft in the deal that brought the now-departed Matt Duchene to them early in the 2017-18 campaign, the Ottawa Senators get no benefit from finishing last in the league.
Combine that with the pride factor and the desire to climb out of the NHL's basement is very high these days.
"I look at (the standings) all the time," defenseman Mark Borowiecki recently told Postmedia. "For me, personally, that's my goal, I want to catch L.A. or Detroit (to avoid finishing with the NHL's worst record). One hundred percent you don't want to finish in last place. It sucks. It's even more of a shot to the ego, even though the whole year has been one, but if we sneak out of that last place spot it's small goal to kind of set and strive for."
As the Senators (25-41-6, 56 points) hit the road to face the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night, they sit last in the league, but a two-game winning streak has them two points behind the aforementioned Los Angeles Kings. Their latest victory was an impressive 6-2 thumping of their Ontario rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, on Saturday night.
"That was, quite truthfully, probably our best game of the year," said interim head coach Marc Crawford, whose team is looking to win three straight games for only the third time this season, and the first time since early December.
"It's always fun beating Toronto, whatever the scenario is, wherever each team sits in the standings," forward Zack Smith told Postmedia. "It's always a good matchup."
The Canucks (31-32-10, 72 points) are mathematically still alive in the chase for a playoff spot. But despite winning two straight and picking up at least a point in four straight, Vancouver sits six points out with nine games remaining. That's long-shot-at-best territory.
However, as they look to the future, there are some big bright spots. For example, forward Elias Pettersson broke the franchise record for most points in a season by a rookie with 61 by collecting an assist during a 3-2 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night.
"It's a lot to take in," said Pettersson, who surpassed the mark set by Ivan Hlinka (1981-82) and Pavel Bure (1991-92). "It means a lot to me. I'm very proud of it."
What's more, goaltender Thatcher Demko -- the 2014 second-round draft choice -- is starting to develop the form that made him such a top prospect. Demko made 29 saves against the Blackhawks, 16 of them in the third period.
As with most of his other starts this season, Demko has the job of playing games in the second half of back-to-back nights.
"That's the role I'm in," Demko told Postmedia. "(Jacob Markstrom's) the guy here now. I know he's going to get the bulk of the work. I'm just trying to get any minutes I can and make the most of it."
Even though a ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs is almost impossible, the Canucks, like the Senators, are finding reasons to push to the finish line.
"We've grinded with our group," Canucks head coach Travis Green told reporters after the Blackhawks game. "I think it's important. We don't want to be a team that only plays hard when it matters. We want it to come naturally to our group and there's been a progression there. It's nice to see our team respond."
--Field Level Media