Arizona Coyotes forward Conor Garland had an incredible Saturday night and proved that he belongs in the NHL with a two-goal performance against the Edmonton Oilers.
Sure, there were stories aplenty in the contest. For one, the Oilers lost and again looked lacklustre with a playoff spot in the balance. And sure, the Coyotes took the game 3-2 and looked like the better team as they challenged for pucks and beat the home team every step of the way. The score could’ve been higher for the visitors.
But the night belonged to Garland, the 22-year-old who scored twice.
It was the first goal that turned heads away from the television, as Garland had the puck go in off his face. He deflected a Jordan Oesterle shot after he was knocked to the ice in the crease. The puck blasted off his face, which was left all the more vulnerable due to his displaced helmet, and into the goal.
Garland hit the ice in obvious pain, blood dripping, and the Coyotes surrounded him as the trainer attended the injury.
It looked bad. Announcers warned people to turn away as the camera zoomed in on Garland’s mug. That was supposed to be that.
But there was Garland, hearing that he scored a goal and grinning ear to ear as he skated off the ice. Then he did an interview during intermission, still bleeding, and was stitched up. By the time the third period was on, Garland was ready to rock with 10 stitches in his face.
“I wasn’t too sure what hit me,” said Garland. “I knew I got hit and then I saw the blood and as I was going off the ice, someone yelled ‘nice goal,’ so that’s when I realized. Then it was on the TV in the medical room, so I got to see it.”
To complete his evening, Garland scored the game-winning goal early in the third period.
Garland has been on a goal-scoring tear of late and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like a puck to the face daunt him. The rookie has been a rare bright spot for the desert dogs, who are 20-21-3 but on a three-game winning streak.
With the loss, the Oilers dropped to 21-21-3 – just a win more than the Coyotes.
And if anything, Garland’s play showed how and why the Oilers were defeated. They lost to a more inspired, more energized team. Arizona outhustled them and Garland proved that by going to the net immediately following the second period distress.
Garland began the season in Tucson with the Roadrunners and was producing at a point-per-game pace. Since joining the NHL’s Coyotes, he’s displayed strong possession numbers and has eight goals in 17 games. The Scituate native also posted incredible numbers with the Moncton Wildcats, with 129 points in 2014-2015 and 128 points in 2015-2016.
Connor McDavid and Kris Russell scored on Saturday for the Oilers, by the way. Edmonton, losers of nine of their last 12, can’t seem to find anything that makes them look like a proper team.
Maybe a little heart, like what Conor Garland showed instinctively on a crimson Saturday night, would be a good place to start.