The Arizona Coyotes turned in one of their most complete efforts of the season on Wednesday night, but the New York Rangers capitalized on two late third period power plays to rally from a 2-1 deficit and ultimately come out on top, 3-2. The ending spoiled strong efforts from both Clayton Keller and Scott Wedgewood, and soured the mood after the team appeared to be in line for its sixth win of the season.
Instead, the Coyotes suffered their sixth straight loss.
Wednesday’s defeat again highlighted Arizona’s struggle on special teams, but it wasn’t all bad. The Coyotes were more productive on offense then they had been in previous games, and ended up outshooting the Rangers 31-30.
Here’s what we learned after the loss to the Rangers.
Penalties and Special Teams Continue to Plague the Coyotes
The Coyotes were humming along after Keller put the Coyotes up 2-1 8:47 into the third period, and considering they had done a good job of staying out of the penalty box to that point, it seemed like the team may be destined for a rare victory against a contender.
That’s where the wheels fell off. Arizona was whistled for two penalties late in the game, first an interference call against Phil Kessel at 13:14, followed by a team penalty for too many men just three minutes later. As fate would have it, the Rangers converted on both opportunities. Coyotes coach André Tourigny would not comment as to whether he agreed with the calls or not after the game, but regardless, it was a tough break for a hard-luck team that was searching for just its sixth win of the season.
The Coyotes ended the night 0-for-2 on the power play, while the Rangers were 2-for-3. Both of their power-play goals came in the final six minutes of the game, scored by Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko, who scored twice Wednesday night.
“Stuff happened, it was a key moment,” Tourigny said. “Give them credit, their best player made a difference in that situation. At the same time, I think it’s frustrating on our side, because it’s three games in a row we had more scoring chances than our opponent, and we cannot find a way to get a point in those three games. It’s tough, a little bit right now, tomorrow the sun will come up, but tonight we’re not in the best place mentally.”
The Coyotes reclaimed the last-place spot in the NHL on the power play after going 0-for-2 Wednesday night, dropping their conversion rate to just 11.76 percent on 68 tries. The penalty kill hasn’t been much better, as their percentage dipped to 70.65 after allowing two power-play goals to the Rangers.
The two late penalties were a tough break for Arizona, and its inability to kill off the penalties, regardless of whether or not the calls were merited, ultimately made the difference in the game.
“I thought we played a good game, a good 60 minutes until they got those two power plays,” Keller said. “It’s just something we need to clean up, but overall it’s how we want to play hockey games, and it’s fun when you’re in games like that.”
Clayton Keller Found His Groove
Keller himself had been embroiled in a slump, as he had not recorded a point since Dec. 6 against the Dallas Stars, and only had four multi-point performances heading into Wednesday’s game against the Rangers. He turned in a complete effort against the Rangers, notching a goal and an assist in 22:10 time on ice.
His 19 points and seven goals still lead the team, and Tourigny said what Keller brings to the team goes far beyond the scoresheet.
“His production, it’s not that I don’t care, I care, but it’s the least of my worries because the way he works,” he said. “His competitiveness every day, it’s beautiful. It’s fantastic.”
Keller, for his part, said after the game he focused more on dialing in mentally, and will continue to focus on that aspect of the game moving forward. In the end, it’s all about keeping it simple.
“The biggest thing I figured out is when I’m skating, that’s when I’m at my best, and I’m not just looking to pass all the time,” Keller said. “I’m using my feet first, and everything else kind of takes care of itself.”
Janis Moser Gives Fans Something to Look Forward To
Defenseman Janis “JJ” Moser made his NHL debut against the Rangers, complete with his solo skate around the ice prior to warmups. The 21-year-old Switzerland native logged 18:56 of game time, and finished with one shot and a minus-1 rating.
Moser has 12 points in 18 games with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Tucson Roadrunners, good for third on the team.
“It’s obviously a dream come true,” Moser said. “Before the game you think about how it’s going to be, and this, and that. When the game, once it starts, it’s a hockey game and you don’t have time to think about all the things that are going on, so you just focus on what you have to do, and focus on your job.”
Moser said he settled in after two or three shifts, and he looked right at home paired with veteran defenseman Anton Stralman. Tourigny was also impressed with the young defenseman, who was called upon because the team is facing a litany of injuries.
“He skated really well,” Tourigny said. “He sees the game, he moves the puck well, he’s assertive. He’s still a young man, he’s still not mature physically, and he still needs to grow into his body and get stronger physically, but he did a really good job tonight.”
On the Road Again
The Coyotes now hit the road for a three-game swing up the coast, starting in Anaheim on Friday before traveling to Vancouver on Sunday and Seattle on Tuesday. They then return home for two consecutive games, against Tampa Bay and Los Angeles.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.