Mark Kastelic spent the build-up to the game with family and friends. He signed a hockey stick for a kid during pregame warm-ups, something he rarely does.
When the puck wasn’t in play, Kastelic found himself sneaking peeks into the crowd, even finding his mom in the corner.
Kastelic’s first NHL game in his hometown was going to be memorable no matter what. He added the perfect topper to a perfect day by scoring the winning goal.
Kastelic scored in the third period to give Ottawa a two-goal lead and the Senators held on to beat his hometown Arizona Coyotes 5-3 on Thursday night.
“It’s very surreal,” Kastelic said. “I’ve dreamed about this moment since I was a kid. You kind of have a lot of ups and downs along the way, and I’m finally here. It was really special.”
The Senators jumped out to an early two-goal lead and spent the rest of the night fighting off the pesky Coyotes.
Brady Tkachuk, another Arizona native, and Derick Brassard scored in a testy first period that included Arizona All-Star Clayton Keller’s cross-checking game misconduct.
The Coyotes cut two-goal deficits in half three times, the last on Barrett Hayton’s backhander with 2:44 left. Arizona then pulled goalie Karel Vejmelka and sent a flurry of shots at Anton Forsberg, but Artem Zub scored on an empty net to end it.
Alex DeBrincat also scored and Forsberg stopped 27 shots.
“It’s hard to win in this league,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “We’ve been in those games where we’ve been beat up on the shot clock and you just stay in the game. You can’t cheat.”
The Coyotes made them work for it.
Arizona fought back from a shaky, penalty-filled first period with scrappiness and timely goals. The Coyotes came up just short, stretching their losing streak to seven games.
Dylan Guenther had a goal and an assist, and Lawson Crouse also scored for Arizona. Vejmelka had 42 saves.
“We put an effort in tonight and came up a little short,” Crouse said. “We’re going through a tough stretch and we’ve got to crack it.”
Tkachuk scored midway through the first period, punching in a rebound that popped high in the air. Keller was then sent off for retaliating after Erik Brnnstrm hit him twice with his stick.
Brassard scored midway through the five-minute penalty, punching in a loose puck after his redirect went under Vejmelka. The Coyotes challenged for goaltender interference, but it was upheld upon review.
“It was a tough call, but we thought we had to try because it was a turning point in the game,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said. “The guys reacted really well.”
Guenther scored on a power play midway through the second period by lifting a shot from the right circle over Forsberg’s stick shoulder.
DeBrincat gave Ottawa two-goal lead again late in the third period, jabbing at a puck underneath Vejmelka until he forced it into the goal.
The Coyotes still had some fight left.
Arizona withstood a lengthy shift in their own end and Crouse cut Ottawa’s lead to 3-2 with a tap-in goal on a pass from Nick Bjugstad.
Kastelic scored midway through the third period, redirecting a pass from Jake Sanderson after the Coyotes turned it over behind their goal.
It ended up being the winning goal – in his hometown, no less.
Smith was hired in 2019 after Guy Boucher was fired the season before.
The progress has been slow, but Smith did reach a milestone Thursday night: 100 career wins.
“It probably took me a little longer than I wanted, but here’s hoping for many more,” said Smith, who’s 100-123-27 in four seasons with Ottaway.
Coyotes D Troy Strecher played his 400th NHL game. .. Ottawa F Mathieu Joseph was with the team in Arizona, but didn’t play. He’s been out since Dec. 8 with a lower-body injury. ... Vejmelka is 0-5 and allowed 21 goals in January ... The Senators ended a four-game losing streak in Arizona.
Senators: At Colorado on Saturday night.
Coyotes: At Minnesota on Saturday night.