GLENDALE, Ariz. — Doom and gloom consumed many Arizona Coyotes fans following trade deadline day. The team was mired in a six-game losing streak and faced an ever-increasing uphill battle to make the postseason without one of its best offensive players, Mikkel Boedker.
Trading Boedker to the Colorado Avalanche netted Arizona a defensive prospect, what will soon be a second-round compensation draft pick and veteran forward Alex Tanguay. The pick and prospect received most of the attention, especially considering Tanguay missed Thursday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks — Arizona’s seventh consecutive loss — with a sprained knee.
Any notion of Tanguay being an afterthought quickly dissipated once he was able to don his No. 40 Coyotes sweater.
On a night in which the hockey world was focused on one old guy, 44-year-old Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr and his pursuit of sole possession of third place on the NHL all-time points list, the 36-year-old Tanguay and his line stole the show.
Tanguay made his Coyotes debut alongside center Antoine Vermette and rookie winger Anthony Duclair in what was dubbed the “French Connection,” a nod to all three players being natives of Quebec. Success wasn’t immediate — for that line or the team as a whole — but once the night was over, there was little doubt who the stars of the game were.
“I had zero legs in the first period,” Tanguay said. “I was extremely nervous, couldn’t catch my breath out there, didn’t get much sleep this afternoon. Even though I’ve played for a while, this was a little nerve-racking.
“It’s a new situation. I was looking forward to playing well and I got a little lucky tonight.”
Vermette finished with four points, Tanguay with three and Duclair with two en route to Arizona’s 5-1 victory over the Panthers. Tanguay scored what ultimately became the game-winning goal 5:36 into the second period and scored his second of the evening at nearly the identical time of the third period. He had a secondary assist on Antoine Vermette’s 11th goal of the season in the dying seconds on the game.
“I felt like [Vermette’s] line was awesome — that ‘French Connection’ fun,” said Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue, who stopped 32 of 33 shots.
The origin of the line dates back to the trio’s first day of practice together.
“I put them together the first day Tanguay came in at practice and they looked good – just three French guys together,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said.
The chemistry between the three forwards go beyond their home province and the ability to speak French — the latter of which is used sparingly because it is an unwritten rule to speak English around teammates, according to Vermette. Similar playing styles is the primary catalyst for the line’s success.
“[Duclair’s] got a lot of speed, a lot of skills and he going to create a lot of open ice,” Tanguay said. “[Vermette] is a very smart player. He plays well in both zones, wins a lot of faceoffs and is extremely smart with the puck.”
“I’ve seen [Vermette] play a lot, so maybe the transition is a little bit easier there. I know the type of play we like. I like to skate toward guys when they have the puck and make the quick plays.”
While it’s prudent to pump the breaks on the hype train given the small sample size to work with, Saturday night’s game did provide a glimmer of hope of things to come as the Coyotes hope to return to the playoff conversation. Arizona is 10 points out of a playoff spot and will need performances like they got from the “French Connection” throughout their lineup over the final 17 games to miraculously avoid missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.
“I hope it keeps going,” Tanguay said.
So do Coyotes fans.