Ducks, Coyotes Rivalry Reignited with Jenik Hit on Zegras

In case you missed it, Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras had his bell rung by Jan Jenik of the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night, adding a new chapter to the growing rivalry between the two teams.

As it would happen, Adam Henrique was the first to answer the call to defend his teammate by dropping the gloves with Jenik. Zegras on the other hand went down hard and was immediately helped off the ice. If you are a Ducks fan, you have seen the clip, it was a gnarly sight:

The play itself, however, was but a microcosm of a developing situation between the two teams dating back to Nov. 5 of last year.

The star forward did not return to the contest and was re-evaluated on Friday to decide whether he will miss any additional time. He was not in the lineup for Friday night’s home game against the San Jose Sharks as we await more news from team management.

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In this article, we will pick apart this reignited rivalry and examine the events leading up to this most recent hit that fanned the flame.

Liam O’Brien vs. Nicolas Deslauriers

To find the underlying cause of Liam O’Brien’s personal quarrel with Nicolas Deslauriers, you must go back to when he appeared in one of his 13 games as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. On April 9, 2021, the Ducks were gearing up for a home-and-home with the Western Division champions having little to prove and their sights set on a high draft pick.

The Avalanche had built themselves a 6-4 lead midway through the third when Deslauriers found himself alone in front of the net surrounded by three Colorado players. A scrum ensued, innocently enough, before Nazem Kadri threw a sucker punch into the mix:

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The two exchanged pleasantries from the penalty box, but nothing ever came of the rotten shot from Kadri and the game ended without further conflict. Until four nights later, when O’Brien was tasked with putting Deslauriers in his place on behalf of his teammate. Both guys got some decent shots in during the tilt and they called it a draw.

Fast forward a bit. O’Brien is now in Arizona, getting a good chunk of playing time in their bottom six. In the dying seconds of a 3-1 Ducks victory over a winless Coyotes team, who had dropped eleven in a row to begin the season, Deslauriers and O’Brien ran out the clock with the second of their head-to-head bouts. It can best be described as a wrestling match, as Deslauriers landed only a few blows before O’Brien threw him to the ice.

Liam O'Brien Arizona Coyotes
Liam O’Brien, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The game in early November was heated. Deslauriers and O’Brien should be held responsible for lighting the fuse, but they had still done little in the way of settling their own personal scores with each other. Another opportunity arose when the Ducks and Coyotes met in Anaheim on December 17, 2021.

Deslauriers and O’Brien wasted no time, lining up across from one another on a neutral-zone faceoff at the 2:28 mark of the first period. The fight set the tone for a wild game, which the Coyotes eventually won in overtime. To this day, no one has fought O’Brien at the NHL level more than Deslauriers.

The Jay Beagle Debacle

The O’Brien/Deslauriers squabble blew over. Deslauriers was traded to the Minnesota Wild at the deadline in the Ducks’ fire sale and O’Brien ended up appearing in just two games after the month of March. It is now the final meeting of the 2021-22 season between the Ducks and Coyotes.

Late in the third period of a 5-0 game, Zegras poked at a loose puck and took an unsuspecting shot in the back from Coyotes forward Jay Beagle. If you are not familiar with what happened next, read the full recap of this situation by The Hockey Writers’ own Charlie Hiller, on the ‘Terry-Beagle Incident’. In brief, Troy Terry gave Beagle a piece of his mind and ended up on the receiving end of a beat down at the hands of the Coyotes grinder.

Zegras was especially irate after the skirmish, saying he was “embarrassed for whoever that was” in reference to Beagle and calling the play a “nonsense crosscheck with two minutes left.” Here is the sound bite from him after the game:

The play was indeed senseless, though it gave the Coyotes something they had not had before in the season series; an aggressive, physical edge. It was noted by Hiller, that with Deslauriers no longer in the picture, the Ducks had little in the way of muscle on the ice to step in and protect their young center. Here is one last note from the article mentioned above:

“The fact that this happened after the Ducks traded Nicolas Deslauriers to the Minnesota Wild was not lost on anyone. Deslauriers was an enforcer, an unofficial role that’s had a place in hockey for decades. Enforcers exist to keep the peace with the threat of violence. The argument is that a team will be less likely to take a shot at another team’s star player if someone like Deslauriers, one of the league’s more willing pugilists, is in the lineup.”

– Charlie Hiller (The Hockey Writers – 04/07/22)

The Jan Jenik Hit on Trevor Zegras

This leads us to Wednesday night’s game and the hit from Jenik on Zegras. Is this another example of a nonsense play? First, it is important to understand where Jenik stands in terms of his career. The 22-year-old played just 13 NHL games last season but certainly has a shot to crack a wide-open Coyotes lineup with a good camp. A big hit puts his mark on the game and shows the organization what he can bring to the team while he tries to find his offensive touch at the NHL level.

With that said, it is unlikely Jenik’s intent was to injure Zegras. Though with no supplemental discipline on the way, the attention turns to Zegras and how long the timetable for his return will be. The outlook from head coach Dallas Eakins was bleak, with Zegras absent from practice this week and the Ducks’ preseason game on Friday.

What could have been a one-off season of fisticuffs has rekindled and looks poised to be one of the marquee matchups on the schedule in 2022-23. Mark your calendars for Jan. 24, when the Ducks and Coyotes will kick off two games in five nights.

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