College atmosphere excites players in Rangers win over Coyotes at Arizona State

For one night at least, hockey was played on a college campus. The Rangers enjoyed this unique experience while defeating the Coyotes 3-2 at Mullett Arena on the Arizona State campus.

For the Coyotes, who hope to get a new arena approved in Tempe, it was the second home game at the college venue. They held their home opener on Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets.

A game that included franchise great Shane Doan dropping the ceremonial first puck with son Josh Doan taking part. The Arizona second round pick plays for the Sun Devils in his sophomore year. The elder Doan played for both the original Jets and Coyotes after Winnipeg left for Phoenix in ’96-97.

With only approximately 5,000 seats for fans who attended last night’s NHL game, you had plenty of energy from the crowd. It’s an atmosphere that’s unique due to it having a college environment. For former NCAA players who played in college arenas, they enjoyed the experience. It’s not every day you can go back to school while cashing an NHL check.

“I mean, it had to be 70-30 Rangers fans, right?” K’Andre Miller told NY Post beat writer Mollie Walker after Mika Zibanejad connected on the power play for the game-winner with 7:04 left in the third period. “That’s pretty much a home game.” 

He was right. There were plenty of fans who showed up in Rangers jerseys who made plenty of noise with “Let’s Go Rangers” chants and even “Potvin Sucks” chants. You also had the Arizona State marching band playing during the game. So, you’d hear cool drum beats which allowed for dueling chants in support of both teams. Yes. The Coyotes had their fans too who lent support on All Hallows Eve.

Overall, 4,600 was the paid attendance for the second game at Mullett Arena. In the hyped up season opener against the new Winnipeg franchise, mullets were handed out to fans making it look like a game from the 80’s and 90’s. For the second game, there was more of a Halloween feel with people dressed up in costumes. You even had the mascot decked out in all orange covered up.

Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti got a kick out of it. The MSG broadcast was done remotely from the studio at The Garden. The second straight road game Sam and Joe called the action back home. It’s disappointing that they didn’t make the trip for Dallas and Arizona State even though the latter would’ve probably been a bit challenging to call. The Covid Error has cheapened production.

Most importantly, the Rangers came out with the two points against a subpar Coyotes team that gave an honest effort. They just aren’t too good. However, they came back from a one-goal deficit to grab a 2-1 lead in a busy second period that was highlighted by each team scoring twice.

Despite holding an edge in play during the first period where they out-shot the Coyotes 15-7, the Rangers were unable to get one past former Nashville backup goalie Connor Ingram. Not exactly a household name, he gave a good account of himself in getting the start over Karel Vejmelka. Ingram stopped 36 of 39 shots.

During the first period, it was mostly the cohesive second line of birthday boy Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere that generated offense. They were on the puck a lot and had opportunities to score. In particular, Trocheck was busy totaling eight shots for the game. He was all over the ice throughout.

The Rangers also turned it up on their first power play. With Liam O’Brien off for cross-checking Zibanejad, the vaunted top unit had their chances. Ingram denied Trocheck, Zibanejad and Chris Kreider with his team down a man. He made a fifth save on Jacob Trouba after the power play expired. The second unit came on late.

In a rarity which was the right call by coach Gerard Gallant, he went back to Igor Shesterkin for a second straight game. It marked only the second time in his career that he started both games of a back-to-back. He held up well finishing with 18 saves on 20 shots. A marked difference from facing 33 shots and making 30 stops in a 6-3 win at Dallas.

Even though it’s early in the schedule, it’s time to get Shesterkin into a rhythm. Gallant didn’t give the rating Vezina winner a day off in favor of veteran backup Jaro Halak. It made sense to get Shesterkin his seventh start in the first 10 games. They wanted to sweep the two-game road trip before coming home to host the surprising Flyers tomorrow night.

Although he wasn’t too busy, Shesterkin still made some key stops. He even had to make a pair of saves early on against former Ranger Patrik Nemeth. One of his best came when he denied Zack Kassian on a Coyote flury later in the contest. They played better in the second period.

A better face-off team thanks to the addition of Trocheck, who’s been an upgrade over Ryan Strome, the Blueshirts are faring better on draws. They went 31-and-26 for the night. Zibanejad was their best going 12-and-5. Barclay Goodrow was 6-and-4. Trocheck finished 6-and-7. Former Arizona first round pick Barrett Hayton dominated by winning 10-of-12. He hit a goalpost in the first period.

Following a scoreless first, the Rangers struck for the game’s first goal. On a good shift from Panarin, he was on the puck. Circling around, he finally found a sneaking Lafreniere at the side of the net for a tip-in to make it 1-0 at 1:31. It snapped a five-game goal drought. Lafreniere has points in his last two games. He’s 2-3-5 in 10 games. Hopefully, the good weekend will get him going.

Leading by a goal, Panarin was over aggressive on a forecheck by taking a hooking minor on Troy Stecher in the offensive zone. The Coyotes made him pay. On a good passing play started by Matias Maccelli, he moved the puck down low for rookie Dylan Guenther. Guenther then centered in the slot for a Lawson Crouse one-timer past the glove of Shesterkin to even the score at 6:45. The goal wad the first Arizona shot of the period.

Buoyed by the power play goal, the Coyotes played more aggressive hockey. Nick Bjugstad just missed on a tip-in. Kassian had a shot blocked by Zac Jones. Nick Ritchie was stopped by Shesterkin.

Following a big save by Ingram to rob Trocheck off a quick transition, it was Bjugstad who skated the other way into the Rangers zone and got a tricky shot on Shesterkin that he couldn’t handle. The rebound was missed by Ryan Lindgren, who fumbled it. That allowed Bjugstad to grab the rebound and flip a backhand past Shesterkin to put the Coyotes ahead at 11:27.

Clayton Keller and Guenther picked up the assists. For Guenther, it gave him two helpers for the game. It was his first career two-point game. A ninth overall pick in the 2021 Draft, the 19-year old is up to five points in his first seven games.

After falling behind, the Rangers picked up the hitting. Back in the lineup due to the possible concussion Vitaly Kravtsov suffered despite the ridiculous organization’s dishonesty (hello Filip Chytil), Ryan Reaves had a couple of good hits during an active shift. So did Sammy Blais. He’s playing on the checking line with Ryan Carpenter and Reaves.

The third line featured Saturday’s unlikely hero Julien Gauthier with Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey. They were okay. Goodrow and Gauthier had chances with the latter using his speed to get in and force Ingram to make a tough save. You know what you’ll get from Gauthier, who hustles and plays the game hard.

On a good opportunity for Kreider in front, he passed instead over for a Kaapo Kakko one-timer that Ingram got over and kicked away. I would’ve preferred Kreider take the backhand shot. It was directly in front. Those East/West plays allow goalies to recover. They anticipate the extra pass.

After Trocheck was denied from in tight, Shesterkin came up with two big saves on Hayton. The play in the second was back and forth. Shots favored the Rangers 12-10. Shesterkin also stopped the dangerous Shayne Gostisbehere. The ghost still is a viable threat. He entered the game as the leading scorer of the ‘Yotes with eight points (4-4-8).

Following another good stop from Ingram on Trocheck, who couldn’t score despite having the most opportunities, Adam Fox made a terrific stretch pass to Panarin, who had a step on Gostisbehere. Able to ward off Gostisbehere, he fired a good shot that beat Ingram short side inside the near post. That tied the score with 1:53 left. It was his fifth. A nice birthday present for the just turned 31-year old Russian.

That was a big goal. It allowed the Rangers to go back to the smaller locker room tied. Just from a momentum standpoint, it was important. Ingram had played well. Panarin was able to sneak one by with little wiggle room.

The Rangers controlled the third period. With the exception of an early opportunity for Kassian, who Shesterkin stopped, it was the road team in the traditional white, red and blue jerseys who took over.

They forced Ingram into some tough saves. That included a Gauthier rush and stuff in try where Ingram held the near post to get a stoppage. He would later deny a Miller backhand and stop Kakko.

A close call came when Ingram thought he had a Fox shot covered. With none of the other skaters and goalie realizing the puck was still loose, Fox raced to it and just missed putting the Rangers ahead. It was that close.

Ultimately, Jones drew a hooking minor on Guenther that sent the Rangers to the power play. It took only 27 seconds for them to go ahead for good.

On just a great misdirection play, Kreider took a Panarin feed in front and tipped a no look pass over for a wicked Zibanejad one-timer that found twine for his sixth with 7:04 remaining in regulation. Normally, Kreider would try for the tip-in. But this time, he made a slick play to make the misdirection pass for the easy Zibanejad finish. He now has five power play goals. Is he in line for a similar season as Kreider last year?

Kreider would come close to scoring in a second straight game. But Ingram made the stop to keep the Coyotes within one. Although he isn’t scoring as much, he does have four assists to go with three goals for seven points in 10 games. Sooner or later, the goals will come. He continues to work hard in front.

With over four minutes left, Shesterkin made his last save when he denied Crouse. On the next shift, Kreider used his strength and speed to draw a minor penalty on Travis Boyd for interference with 3:29 to go.

Although they didn’t score, two minutes elapsed leaving very little time for the Coyotes to pull Ingram. He didn’t come off until there were 51 seconds left. Arizona never got any chances.

On a good defensive play, Kreider took a crack at the empty net. He narrowly missed. The final seconds wound down allowing the Rangers to win their second in a row to sweep the weekend away from NYC.

It was a good recovery after their slump. They took care of business. Up next are the Flyers. They’re winning games under old friend John Tortorella. It’s mostly due to Carter Hart. He is standing on his head. The Flyers give up a lot of shots. It’ll be interesting tomorrow night.


3rd 🌟 Dylan Guenther ARZ 2 assists for 1st career 2-point game

2nd 🌟 🤩 Mika Zibanejad NYR game-winning PPG (6th goal)

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Artemi Panarin NYR goal (5) plus 2 🍎 for 3-point game on birthday

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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