Game #6 Coyotes visit Rangers Preview: Girardi returns


The Rangers host the Coyotes tonight at MSG. The game starts at 7 PM. On a rare football Sunday where both the Giants and Jets won, the Blueshirts can make it a successful weekend if they can get past the NHL’s worst team.

So far, Arizona is 1-3-0 with two points. They are touring the metro area with still the Devils ahead on Tuesday. They were 3-2 losers to the Islanders on Friday. Their third straight loss- being outscored 15-8. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have given them nothing combining for one assist and a minus-eight.

The Coyotes are a very young roster. Featuring five rookies including 2016 first round pick Jakob Chychrun, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Lawson Crouse and Laurent Dauphin, Arizona is a rebuilding team which requires patience. How much vet coach Dave Tippett has left remains to be seen. In an interview with beat reporter Sarah McLellan, he admitted that he had to think long and hard before returning. She can be followed on Twitter.

At the very least, the Coyotes still boast lone original Winnipeg Jets holdover Shane Doan. The 40-year old captain is three goals shy of 400 and two points from 950. He has a goal and two assists thus far. Arizona is counting on Oliver Ekman-Larsson and former Star Alex Goligoski to lead the blue line. Ekman-Larsson has two goals while Goligoski has three assists. But each has been on the minus side going a combined minus-eight.

They also just got back defenseman Michael Stone. Along with Chychrun who’s off to a nice start with a goal and two helpers, the Arizona back end has a bright future. Especially if former 2011 first round pick Connor Murphy can continue to improve off last season. Luke Schenn is the sixth defenseman.

The trouble spot for the Coyotes is in net. With Mike Smith sidelined week-to-week, Louis Domingue has struggled in his second year. In three appearances, he’s allowed 10 goals on 61 shots. He’ll get the start tonight. Journeyman Justin Peters backs up.

Jordan Martinook and Brad Richardson have been bright spots each tied for the team lead with two goals and two helpers. The Coyotes still boast reliable two-way center Martin Hanzal. Radim Vrbata has returned where he’s had success. So far, he has a goal and two assists. Tobias Rieder was a good player for them last year playing with Domi and Duclair.

For the Rangers who look to make it two straight on back-to-back nights following an impressive 4-2 comeback win over the Caps, Henrik Lundqvist gets his third consecutive start. He’s been better in the last two allowing four goals on 46 shots. With the next two days off before the Bruins visit Wednesday, it looks like Alain Vigneault wants to get Lundqvist in a groove.

There are two changes for tonight. Dan Girardi returns after missing the last three games with a groin injury. As usual, the 32-year old veteran right defenseman has been a hot topic on social media and the internet. Fans, bloggers and reporters are split up. Girardi isn’t what he used to be. Coming off his worst season, he has to prove he can still be consistent.

It’s not about Ranger fans hating Girardi. Most are appreciative of what he’s brought. A key part of the core that helped the team reach three Final Fours including a Stanley Cup appearance in 2014, he’s given his heart and soul. However, he must be managed better than last year when Vigneault was too loyal, rushing him back from a cracked kneecap while Dylan McIlrath sat.

McIlrath has gotten the short end of the stick. Only having played one game, he’s eighth on the depth chart. Vigneault is killing his trade value. At some point, he’ll be given away and get a chance elsewhere. It hasn’t been fair at all to the former 2010 first round pick whose size, strength and physicality are areas the Rangers lack. Vigneault prefers skating defenseman yet remains loyal to Girardi, who we don’t know what he has left to give.

At least Nick Holden has been as advertised on the penalty kill. He did a great job with Kevin Klein in Saturday’s win helping kill off a five-on-three. For those who are confused on why Holden stays in over Adam Clendening, it’s because he’s more trusted defensively. The penalty kill is more important than the power play. Clendening hasn’t done anything wrong, picking up an assist on a nice breakout that led to J.T. Miller sending Brandon Pirri in for a big goal.

Clendening is a good skating right D who has been used exclusively with rookie Brady Skjei on the third pair. Neither saw much ice late in regulation against the Caps. Vigneault leaned heavily on the top four which has included an improved Marc Staal and workhorse Ryan McDonagh, who’s averaging 25:51 per game while leading Ranger blue liners in assists (4) and shots (11).

By taking Clendening out, they lose a good puck possession right D who has played the left point on the power play. What does that mean? McDonagh is the only defenseman that can play on the man-advantage. Klein can’t as proven last year. Would they give the superb skating Skjei a look? He doesn’t play much shorthanded.

While the D works itself out, the Rangers are without leading scorer Chris Kreider due to neck spasms. That means different lines except for the Derek Stepan, Jimmy Vesey, Rick Nash combo. Oscar Lindberg has been activated with Pavel Buchnevich on the injured reserve. He’ll center the fourth line. J.T. Miller moves up to the Mika Zibanejad unit with Mats Zuccarello. Michael Grabner stays put with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. I don’t get why Vigneault won’t keep Fast on the fourth line and move up Pirri, who scored his second last game.

Rangers lines:

Miller-Zibanejad-Zuccarello

Vesey-Stepan-Nash

Grabner-Hayes-Fast

Pirri-Lindberg-Jooris

I’m just gonna guess on the D:

McDonagh-Girardi

Staal-Klein

Skjei-Holden

Lundqvist

According to Sarah McLellan, here are porential Coyotes lines:

Rieder-Hanzal-Vrbata

Domi-Dvorak-Duclair

Martinook-Richardson-Doan

Crouse-Dauphin-White

Ekman-Larsson-Murphy

Goligoski-Stone

Chychrun-Schenn

Domingue

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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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