Kevin Connauton's 2 goals lift Arizona over Vegas 3-2
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By W.G. RAMIREZ
LAS VEGAS (AP) The Arizona Coyotes don't have much to play for, given they have the worst record in the Western Conference and have long been eliminated from the playoff race.
Except maybe a bit of pride.
It showed Wednesday night as Kevin Connauton scored twice to lead the Coyotes over the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights 3-2.
It marked Arizona's first victory over the expansion Golden Knights in the teams' fifth and final game this season.
"It was a good complete game for us," Connauton said. "It's big, I mean right now we're focused on building for next year. We still have a group here that has a lot of pride and that is gonna play hard right to the end."
"We knew that we had lost all the games against this team and we wanted to show that we're not that bad a team," Raanta said. "Everybody knows that we're not gonna go to the playoffs, but we want to show that we can beat anybody in this league. A little bit of a better start (this season) we could actually be in the hunt for a playoff spot."
The Coyotes began the season 0-10-1 and were 9-27-5 heading into 2018, but now they're on a 15-7-2 roll, including an impressive 4-1 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay on Monday night.
"It was a huge thing to come from Tampa and start working again, it was a big thing for the team for sure," Raanta said. "It's showing to the fans and showing to the league that we can beat anybody in this league when we are playing like we played today and in Tampa. It's a confidence boost for sure."
Erik Haula and Alex Tuch each scored power-play goals for the playoff-bound Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots.
Vegas is in a 7-6-3 rut and holds a five-point lead over surging San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks were idle Wednesday and visit Vegas on Saturday night. The Golden Knights are 27-10-2 at home this season.
The Golden Knights continued to struggle at the start of games, getting outshot by Arizona in the first period 15-5.
Vegas has been outshot 41-22 in the first period over its past three games.
"It's bothering me a lot," Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said of his team's sluggish starts. "First game of our road trip in San Jose we had an unbelievable first period and the last three since then it's been chasing the game every game. That's three in a row and we gotta fix it. We gotta be better, we gotta be more prepared for those starts and get our game ready."
The Coyotes opened the scoring when Connauton found the loose puck after a deflection in front of the crease and backhanded it in a wide-open net.
Vegas tied it after James Neal took advantage of a turnover and fed Haula for a one-timer.
With a little more than three minutes left in the first period, Arizona rookie Clayton Keller stole the puck, maneuvered around the defense and served an attacking Panik, whose backhand beat Fleury.
Keller, who leads the team in scoring, continued a red-hot March and has now recorded a point in 10 straight games. Keller's 18 points this month is the most by a rookie, while his 39 assists and 62 points this season are also team records by a rookie.
Tuch deflected Jonathan Marchessault's slap shot late in the second period to knot the game at 2, but moments later Connauton scored his second goal when his shot from the point made its way through the five-hole.
"It was big because obviously this is a great hockey team we're playing. This is a tough building to play in, a loud building," Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. "We held our own, you gotta give our team credit. It's a tough road trip. I like the way some of these guys are buying in. You do the right things, good things happen."
Arizona, which is 6-3-1 in its last 10 road games, played its fifth game of a six-game road trip that started in Buffalo, and continued through Carolina, Florida, Tampa and Vegas. The Coyotes finish their road trip tomorrow in Los Angeles.
NOTES: Arizona is on a winning run of 16-1-1 when holding opponents to two goals or fewer. ... Fleury remains one win away from moving into sole possession of 11th on the NHL's career wins list. ... Neal is two games shy from his 700th career game. ... Marchessault is two games away from his 200th career contest.
Arizona: Visits Los Angeles on Thursday night.
Vegas: Hosts St. Louis on Friday night.
More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Updated March 29, 2018