Good teams find a way to win when they’re not playing their best, especially against a team that expects to lose.
The Rangers took full advantage of two late power plays in the third period against a struggling Coyotes team as they scored twice in the final six minutes to leave Arizona with a 3-2 win that snapped a modest two game losing streak.
The Rangers are 19-7-3 for 41 points and first place in the Metropolitan Division, thanks to two more wins than the second place Washington Capitals, who also have 41 points. Arizona fell to a league worst 5-21-2.
Kappo Kakko scored twice including the go ahead goal with the man advantage. Chris Kreider had three assists while Mika Zibanejad had a goal and an assist to supply enough offense.
The Rangers’ offense has slowed a bit. In the last five games, they’ve scored only 10 goals as opposed to scoring ten in three games before that.
The injury to Artemi Panarin will not help that cause. The Rangers leading scorer left the game early in the second period with what coach Gerard Gallant called a “lower body injury.”
Panarin’s loss was felt on the ice and on the bench but Zibanejad knew the team could not feel sorry for themselves. “Would we want him [Panarin] to be out there, yes, but that wasn’t the case right now, so we gotta do the best out of that situation,”he said. “Kap [Kakko] came in and did a great job.”
Interestingly, the Rangers dominated the dots by winning 37 of 56 face offs including two key draws by Zibanejad that came before both power play goals.
Keith Kinkaid made 29 saves and literally earned the win as he faced an Arizona team that was generating a lot of time in the Blueshirts zone, particularly in the first period. The Rangers did not have their legs after losing to Colorado on Tuesday night and it showed as Kinkaid stopped 12 of 13 shots in the opening twenty minutes, including denying Arizona’s Barrett Hayton on a breakaway.
Kinkaid made seven starts last season for the Rangers and played two games at Hartford before being recalled to make this start. “I thought he was good. He was strong, he was good,” Gallant said after the game. “He looked solid for a guy that hadn’t played in, roughly 2 or 3 weeks.”
With the Rangers on the power play late in the first period, Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller had the puck near the Ranger blue line and found a streaking Loui Eriksson on the left side. Eriksson shot the puck and it slithered through Kinkaid’s legs for a shorthanded goal and a 1-0 lead at 17:46 of the first period.
“I think it’s been two and half weeks since a game, let alone an NHL game so I just had to get in the mode a little bit and I think I settled down after that,” Kinkaid said.
The Rangers started to get their legs going about midway through the second period. Kakko tied the game at one as he pounced on a loose puck to score his 4th of the season. Zibanejad fired a shot that was stopped by Coyotes goaltender Scott Wedgewood but the puck trickled loose and Kakko capitalized.
Arizona took a 2-1 lead at 8:47 of the third period on a pretty goal by Keller. Coyotes’ center Nick Schmaltz was able to flip the puck over a sliding Jacob Trouba as Keller corralled the pass and went to his back hand to beat Kincaid, who was way out of position.
With less than seven minutes left, Arizona’s Phil Kessel was called for interference to give the Rangers an opportunity to tie the game and they didn’t let it pass.
Exactly one minute into the power play, Zibanejad used a screen from Kreider and fired a wrist shot from the top of the left face off circle past Wedgewood to tie the game at two. Kreider and Fox (26) assisted on the goal.
With less than three minutes remaining, the Rangers got another power play when the Coyotes were called for too many men on the ice. Kakko used his strength in front to score the eventual game winning goal after taking a nice cross ice pass from Kreider who was on the right side.
Kakko replaced Panarin on the #1 power play unit and he was thrilled to be able to contribute. “I got a chance on the first power play [unit] I didn’t know it was that simple,” a sarcastic Kakko said. “Go to the net keep your sticks down and it’s gonna come. Yeah, great pass by Kreids and big goal for us.”
The Rangers will fly home from Arizona with a bittersweet win as they await word on their best player. “Can’t really fill that void. You don’t have a guy like Artemi, rarely, Zibanejad said. “I wouldn’t say anyone in the league is like him, so you just gotta do it collectively.”