Game #6: Black and Blueshirts out grind Coyotes 3-2


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Dan Girardi wears the Broadway Hat after a successful return in which his goal proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 win by the Rangers over the Coyotes. AP Photo via Getty Images Real NYR Fans.

A win is a win. Not every performance will be top notch. Ultimately, the Rangers were successful where it counted. On the scoreboard where they defeated the Coyotes 3-2 at Madison Square Garden.

In a back-to-back situation, they were challenged by the rebuilding Coyotes. Losers of three straight, Arizona led on the game’s first shift and were tied after two periods. The difference was Dan Girardi’s first goal at 1:55 of the third period off a great set up from Brady Skjei.

It was fitting that it would be Girardi in his return that got the game-winner. After missing three games due to a groin injury, number five was back in his Rangers jersey paired alongside rookie Skjei. They were solid together combining for the winning goal and each going plus-two. It couldn’t have gone better for the 32-year old Girardi, who was on at the end with old partner Ryan McDonagh helping protect a one-goal lead.

On this night, the Rangers had to dig deep. They weren’t as sharp and it showed in their play. There were more giveaways, turnovers and shots allowed (29) along with quality chances. Despite allowing two goals to Radim Vrbata including a weak one that tied the contest late in the second, Henrik Lundqvist was called upon to make some key saves en route to career win number 377. That included 12 of 13 in the second and another eight for eight in a workmanlike third.

In a league where you don’t get style points for winning, the Rangers went back to an old philosophy used under former coach John Tortorella. The Black and Blueshirts returned. On a night they were out-attempted 69-50, the Rangers sacrificed their bodies to block 28 shots. Five came from McDonagh, who was everywhere in a team high 22:17 while setting up J.T. Miller’s first of the season. The captain has continued to deliver big performances so far. He covered for a couple of hiccups from partner Nick Holden and other teammates.

As a team, the Rangers had 22 giveaways. Way too many for assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom’s liking. In a interview with MSG’s Dave Maloney before the third, Beukeboom emphasized taking better care of the puck. They were able to when they had to in improving to 4-2-0. They’ll now have two days to recover before hosting the Bruins at 8 PM in another NHL On NBC Sports Network Rivalry Night exclusive. The first regular season match I’m attending. I get to meet a special friend. 🙂

It didn’t start well with Vrbata able to beat Lundqvist with a seeing eye shot from Connor Murphy 33 seconds into the first. Kevin Klein and Marc Staal were caught out for it. Klein and Miller were unable to clear the puck which led to Murphy combining with Vrbata to give the Coyotes a quick lead.

The Rangers responded well from behind. Beginning to crank up their speed and possession fore-check, they began pinning the Coyotes in their end for stretches. After a couple of close calls, it was the strong play of Jesper Fast along the wall that kept a play alive which led to Michael Grabner setting up Josh Jooris in front for his first. One of the best Ranger forwards, Fast swung the puck around the boards to Grabner, who then passed for Jooris in front where he was able to deke around and tuck the puck past Arizona starter Louis Domingue.

With the game still even, the Rangers went to work on the power play. With 2016 first round pick Jakob Chychrun off for hooking, Brandon Pirri worked the puck across to McDonagh, whose shot pass was perfectly redirected home by Miller in front. Funny enough, I tweeted in the first that I felt J.T. was due. He was around the puck a lot in the first on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello. Sure enough, he came through with his second to put the Blueshirts up 2-1 at 5:45 of the second.

But sloppy play crept into their game. Giving up dangerous chances to a more rested Coyotes that were led by Vrbata and Chychrun, they gave back the lead. On a bad Kevin Hayes turnover in the neutral zone, Christian Dvorak started a counter attack that allowed Max Domi to find a wide open Vrbata, who surprised Lundqvist with a quick snapshot for his second of the game tying it up with 3:42 left. Hayes got lost in coverage failing to take Vrbata after misreading the play when Klein had coverage down low. It was a bad game for Hayes, who finished with six giveaways. Fast covered for him a few times.

The Rangers only took one penalty. A Nash tripping minor with 2:17 left in the second. They were able to get it killed off, keeping the game knotted for the final stanza.

With Girardi asserting himself while working well with the faster skating Skjei, he got just reward when he scored his first. On a great rush by Skjei in which he skated around the net and found an open Girardi at the right point, Danny G let go of a one-timer that beat Domingue glove side at 1:55 of the third. It was nice to see him get the goal which amounted to the game-winner. A great play and read by Skjei and a quick release from Girardi.

All this while Twitter was debating Girardi again. On a night where some had the audacity to complain about his play due to the beloved corsi/possession, he and Skjei were good together. It was just asinine. Klein and Staal had a tough night on for two goals against. Though I don’t think either were their fault. The first was a bad break. The second Hayes was responsible for.

To their credit, the Blueshirts played a better third out-shooting the Coyotes 9-8. They generated quality chances. Particularly Nash who stayed with Derek Stepan and a more confident Jimmy Vesey, who came so close in the first twice. It was also Vesey, who made a great move and pass for a cutting Nash, who was flat out robbed by Domingue on a great glove save point blank. Nash just doesn’t have any luck.

The Rangers could’ve scored more. But they missed the net quite a bit misfiring 16 times. That included three from Vesey, two from Zuccarello and three from Zibanejad, who was robbed by Michael Stone on a delayed penalty. He had Domingue beaten but Stone blocked his shot sending it harmlessly off the post.

The bottom line is they got the ‘W.’ Two points well earned with Girardi out on the final shift with McDonagh and the mistake prone Hayes actually trusted to clear the zone.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (power play goal-2nd of season, 7 shots, 4 hits, -1 in 23 shifts-17:19)

2nd Star-Jakob Chychrun, Arizona (2 shots, 6 attempts, 3 hits, dangerous throughout -1 in 22 shifts-16:23)

1st Star-Dan Girardi, NYR (game-winner-1st of season, 2 shots, 3 hits, 2 blocks, +2 in 25 shifts-19:15 incl. 18:24 even strength, 51 seconds on PK)

Notes: In his season debut, Oscar Lindberg was fine centering the fourth line. In 15 shifts (10:37) he won 7 of 9 face-offs and had two blocks. … Grabner had another strong game assisting on Jooris’ first while blocking three shots and going plus-one in 13:21. … In another MSG return, Anthony Duclair was held without a point for a fifth straight game. He attempted five shots in 19 shifts (16:44). … Dylan Strome was a healthy scratch for the Coyotes. … Face-offs went in favor of Arizona 31-29 led by Martin Hanzal, who was a dominant 15-and-7. Lindberg led the Rangers at 7-and-2 with Hayes also over .500 (8-and-6). Key Stat: Blocked shots NYR 28 (McDonagh 5, Klein 4) Coyotes 8 (Ekman-Larsson 3). Giveaways NYR 22 (Hayes 6) Arizona 4 (Shane Doan 2).

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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