GLENDALE, Ariz. — Maybe it’s taken them until February to experience it regularly, but the Arizona Coyotes are learning that winning is a whole lot more fun than losing.
They’ve been out of the playoff chase since losing their first 11 games, and they’ve been saddled with the NHL’s worst record nearly all season. They’ve lost 42 of 57 games overall, and they’re still last in the Western Conference with a 15-32-10 record.
But they’re apparently determined not to totally give this season away. The Coyotes will try for only their second three-game winning streak of the season Thursday night when they play host to the Montreal Canadiens, who will play the second contest of a four-game road trip and their second in as many nights.
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The Canadiens (22-27-7) lost their third in a row Wednesday night, wasting a strong 23-save effort by Antti Niemi in a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche that further dropped Montreal out of playoff contention. Semyon Varlamov made 44 saves and Carl Soderberg and Alexander Kerfoot scored goals for Colorado, with Kerfoot scoring with only 3:02 remaining on a shot Niemi didn’t see.
Since dropping nine of 11, Arizona is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games and has won three of four contests. The only time the Coyotes have won three in a row this season was during a Canadian road trip Nov. 16-20 — a mini-streak that began, coincidentally, with a 5-4 victory at Montreal.
Now, three months later, the Coyotes followed up perhaps their best game of the season, a 6-1 rout of the slumping Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, with a solidly played 2-1 win Tuesday at San Jose.
“I think now we’re finally starting to turn the page,” defenseman Kevin Connauton said. “We’re getting a taste of winning and seeing how good it is. We’re growing as a team, which is always good. We’re not hanging our hats on moral victories, we’re going into games expecting to win.”
Connauton is factoring into the turnaround, with four goals and two assists in the last seven games; he has only five goals all season. Defenseman Alex Goligoski scored for the third time in as many games in San Jose, including the game winner, as Arizona defensemen have put up 17 points in the last five games. Center Nick Cousins is hot, too, with five goals and seven points in nine games.
“We’re doing a good job on the back end, trying to create as many chances as possible,” Connauton said.
The Coyotes will go against Montreal starting goalie Carey Price. Price is 15-20-5 overall with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
“When you look at records, and Niemi’s record against Colorado (9-4-3) and Carey’s record (5-3-1) in Arizona, at the end of the day we balanced that out and tried to put the odds on our side,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said.
The Coyotes needed both goaltenders to win at San Jose. Backup Scott Wedgewood made 28 saves in the first two periods, but left after being run over by San Jose’s Timo Meier only 28 seconds into the third period. Starting goalie Antti Raanta came on to stop all 12 shots he faced.
“I wasn’t at my sharpest, but my teammates were blocking shots, taking sticks away and pushing guys around so I could see the shots,” Raanta said.
After the game, Wedgewood told coach Rick Tocchet he was OK, but it’s likely Raanta (10-14-6) will go against Montreal in the first contest of a seven-game homestand for Arizona that runs through March 3. By then, Arizona will have played nine of 10 games at Gila River Arena, where Montreal has won six of eight games.
Neither team has a scorer who’s put up more than 40 points this season. Coyotes rookie forward Clayton Keller has 16 goals and 40 points, while left wing and team captain Max Pacioretty leads the Canadiens with 16 goals and 33 points.