With the Coyotes playing the remaining regular season game streak and Friday was a week away from their final at the Gila River Arena, there isn’t much intrigue beyond whether they’ll finish with the lowest point total in the NHL and will improve their chances at the No. 1 overall draft this offseason.
But there was something worth seeing on Friday night, aside from the large crowd that lined up early to shoot a Jakob Chychrun bobblehead. It was the NHL debut of forward Bokondji Imama, who after nearly five AHL seasons with the Ontario Reign and Tucson Roadrunners got his chance when he was recalled from the Roadrunners earlier Friday.
The Coyotes (22-50-6) held off against the playoff-seeking Capitals, but fell 2-0 for their ninth straight loss. Conor Sheary scored a rebound and a deflection in the first period, and John Carlson scored an empty net in the final minute for Washington.
Imama isn’t a highly touted prospect, but he’s a player who paid his underage dues and overcame incidents of racism throughout his youth, juniors and professional career. The Montreal native had 12 points in 54 games with a whopping 178 penalty minutes – he takes on the enforcer role – and the Coyotes lost five forwards on Friday, with Clayton Keller and Lawson Crouse out for the season, Christian Fischer trying still to return due to injury and Nick Ritchie and Jay Beagle withdrew due to injury.
Imama didn’t play much, just 4 minutes and 4 seconds, but he became the 11th player to make his NHL debut with the Coyotes this season. He also did what he does well, delivering five hits even though he didn’t play in the third period.
The game was delayed a few minutes by an on-ice ceremony in honor of Coyotes forward Andrew Ladd’s 1,000th career NHL game, which took place on Wednesday. Ladd received a silver stick, a watch from his teammates and a framed jersey for reaching the milestone and celebrated it with his wife and children, all watching a video in which former teammates congratulated him.
Jack McBain hit the post with a shot and nearly pushed the puck behind Washington goalie Vitek Vanecek moments later in the first period.
Karel Vejmelka made 26 saves for the Coyotes, who managed just 19 shots on goal.
The Coyotes host the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs Saturday night in the second of straight games. Arizona is 5-11 in the second straight game this season.