Game 11: Boo Nieves memorable night sparks fourth line

All month, Alain Vigneault has been looking for a fourth line to play. He may have just found it. Enter Boo Nieves. The Hartford recall who was suggested by Chris Drury made the most of his season debut assisting on three of the Rangers’ five goals to highlight a 5-2 home win over the hapless Coyotes.

In Derek Stepan’s return, the 23-year old Nieves was splendid in centering Pavel Buchnevich and Michael Grabner. The cohesive trio combined for four goals and three assists with a plus-10 rating. Nieves’ three helpers made him the first Rangers rookie since Dominic Moore to record at least three assists in a game.

The search for a fourth center had reached new lows with Vigneault quickly souring on Adam Cracknell, who cleared waivers to go down to Hartford. It was so bad, he preferred the odd 11 forward, seven defensemen lineup over using Cracknell or Paul Carey.

I knew it wouldn’t be 18-year old prospect Filip Chytil, who needs more seasoning with the Wolf Pack. I guessed Nieves a few days ago. Hopefully, tonight will give him a confidence boost to help him stick.

They took full advantage of emergency starter Adin Hill. The 21-year old was awful allowing bad goals at inopportune moments which hurt his team. They were just as putrid at turning over the puck and failing to backcheck. You can see why the Coyotes are 0-9-1 with only one point in their first 10 games.

Even Stepan was guilty of a turnover which led directly to Chris Kreider scoring he game’s first goal. He lost the puck in the neutral zone to Mika Zibanejad and then failed to pick up Kreider, who was the recipient of a nice Mats Zuccarello feed for his second at 8:01.

With a shaky Hill leaking rebounds and looking overwhelmed, Buchnevich took a long unscreened wrist shot from distance that went right through the Arizona goalie for a 2-0 lead at 15:57. Nieves started it with Ryan McDonagh earning the primary helper. Buchnevich made a smart decision to shoot the puck right away catching Hill napping.

It was all Blueshirts as they controlled the play and doubled up the Coyotes in shots 15-7. They could’ve had more. That’s how bad their opponent was. They struggled completing passes. During the first period, MSG had two video tributes. One recognizing Rick Nash for reaching 1,000 career games.

The other was the highly anticipated tribute to Stepan, who showed some tears afterwards while acknowledging the crowd with a stick tap during a stoppage. It would’ve been nice if MSG had shown it on the network to some of Stepan’s biggest supporters. I was very disappointed.

The Coyotes showed some life at the start of the second. You had to figure coach Rick Tocchet gave a stern talking to between periods. They were more competitive even getting the next goal from an ex-Ranger. It came from Anthony Duclair, who was able to get loose in front and get to a Christian Dvorak feed while Kevin Shattenkirk turned over the puck and scrambled along with Zuccarello out of place.

But the Rangers came right back thanks to some more strong play from Nieves. He created a two-on-one with Michael Grabner who scored on a rebound restoring a two-goal lead. Just a great read from Nieves, who looked polished for only his second career NHL game. He made his debut last year in Vancouver.

Arizona kept coming. They put pressure on but were unable to beat Pavelec in the second. That was due to Pavelec who came up with some timely saves to pick up his first win as a Ranger. Making his third appearance and second start, he did just fine making 27 saves. I would give him another start tomorrow at Montreal. Give Henrik Lundqvist another day off to recover.

In the third, the Coyotes took liberties with David Desharnais. A late hit by Nick Cousins drew a quick retaliation from Shattenkirk. He went off for roughing to hand the Coyotes a power play. I didn’t mind what he did because it’s important to send a message.

Unfortunately, hot shot rookie Clayton Keller got a favorable bounce off Nick Holden’s skate right back to him for a quick snapshot that gave Arizona some life. Keller is the next big American star. He leads the Coyotes in scoring with seven goals and four assists for 11 points. He plays on the top line with Stepan and third-year pro Max Domi. It was a tough game for them defensively. They were on for three goals against finishing minus-nine.

They came real close to making it nerve racking. A Domi entering feed for a open Stepan looked like a sure goal. But some great hustle from Brady Skjei allowed him to tie up Stepan enough to force the shot wide. It was Skjei’s best game of the season. The odd pairing with Holden went well. So, they’ll be kept together. Despite mild protests from a few fans, it’s better to have Tony DeAngelo in Hartford for his development. Holden proved last year he can contribute as part of the top six. Steven Kampfer is a capable extra.

The typical overreaction of some bloggers is what makes Twitter unfun. They’re never happy. Even when the team wins which has been a rarity so far, it’s maddening. Maybe I should avoid Twitter until after the game.

Unlike last week’s win over Nashville, they didn’t sit back. They kept attacking a fragile opponent searching for more. The fourth line was at the center of it often pinning the Stepan line in thanks to the cohesion of Nieves, Buchnevich and Grabner. The Kevin Hayes line was effective again. Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fasts are good fits because they rub off on Hayes, who’s playing much better. He had a couple of more mesmerizing rushes which nearly resulted in goals.

For once, all four lines and three defense pairs were in sync. There is nothing to complain about. So unlike other popular blogs, you won’t see me cry over a win.

Now, can they build on it tomorrow night at the House of Horrors. The Habs are even worse. With two wins so far over 10 games and fresh off another home humiliation, there are all sorts of rumors swirling. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on a Saturday night with Hockey Night In Canada.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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