From First to ????
It's fair to say nobody, but nobody would have predicted in October or November that tomorrow night's visit of Ottawa to Phoenix would be a critical game for either team, let alone both of them.
But it is, particularly so for the Senators.
Yes, the Coyotes can still qualify for post-season play, hardly a scenario that seemed possible months ago when it appeared that Wayne Gretzky might be headed for an absolutely miserable season in the desert. So sure, the 'Yotes need a win.
But how about Ottawa?
Now 0-fer so far on this western road swing, and with only one win to their credit since Bryan Murray took over from John Paddock as head coach, the Sens will have to be an absolutely desperate team in Phoenix, something they haven't had to be for a long, long time.
In the worst case scenario, the Sens could soon find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs if they can't start winning the odd game. That seems a remote possibility indeed, but the fact that it's even in the conversation is truly amazing given the way in which this team started the season.
But having played losing hockey since Jan. 1, the more important reality for the Sens is somehow finding a way to head into the playoffs with the proverbial wind at their backs, a particularly challenging situation given their dicey goaltending situation.
That said, far too much attention has been paid to the Ray Emery situation, and not nearly enough to the way in which Ottawa's core players, particularly those with brand new or relatively new contracts, are responding these days.
Since this time last year, the Sens have signed Emery, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher to long-term contracts, and somewhere along the line it seems like this hockey club lost its fire and became rather complacent.
Money changes things. Make that many players hugely wealthy for the first time all at once, and you might have a team that no longer has the hunger it once did.
To understand that, look no further than Gretzky's team, filled with young players hoping to latch on to full-time NHL work, a team almost bereft of front-level NHL talent.
Yet the Coyotes play hard, very hard, every night.
By comparison, the Sens look rich, fat and unwilling to pay the price.
That needs to change. Saturday night would be a good time.