GLENDALE, Ariz. - So much for all the quotes from the coach and players about how getting away from Madison Square Garden would be a blessing.
In the first stop of a three-game western trip last night, emergency starter Chad Johnson allowed three goals on seven shots in the first period as the Phoenix Coyotes edged the Rangers, 3-2, sending the beleaguered Blueshirts to their fifth consecutive loss, a season high.
Marian Gaborik's goal, his 30th of the season and first in six games at 9:42 of the third period, and Sean Avery's wrister from the right circle on a two-on-one at 11:50 rallied the Rangers. But Michal Rozsival's third penalty with 1:55 left allowed the Coyotes (32-18-5) to hang on, although Gaborik hit the post on a shorthanded bid with 1:15 to go. At 24-24-7, the Rangers have cobbled together just four points in the last nine games and fallen out of a playoff spot in the East.
No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was set to start, came down with the flu Saturday and sat on the bench in the first, but did not return after the first intermission. One could argue that he had seen enough.
As has been the pattern, the Rangers began sluggishly. The penalty-kill unit erased a Coyotes power play at 3:40, allowing just one shot after Dan Girardi was whistled for tripping Martin Hanzal. Nonetheless, Shane Doan put the Coyotes ahead 1-0 at 6:06, when he scooted through two Rangers, picked up the bouncing puck, and his shot from in front trickled past Johnson. It was the Coyotes captain's sixth point in three games.
Mikkel Boedker, called up Saturday for the injured Scotty Upshall, made it 2-0 just 41 seconds later after a dash to the net from the left side. He took a pass from veteran Robert Lang alone in front, deked around Johnson and tucked the puck inside the right post. The newly formed Brandon Dubinsky-Erik Christensen-Chris Drury line was caught up ice. Sami Lepisto's shot from the blue line though a screen, his first NHL goal, extended the lead to three at 14:13. Defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Girardi were on ice for all three goals, although the backchecking was wretched on the first two.
Johnson, 23, had dressed as Lundqvist's backup for 20 games this season and appeared in three (including two starts), is 0-1-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Acquired from Pittsburgh for a fifth-round pick during the June 27 draft in Montreal, Johnson lost 2-1 in a shootout in Atlanta on Jan. 7 and 4-1 in St. Louis on Jan. 16. He also relieved Lundqvist in a 6-0 trouncing by Philadelphia on Dec. 30. It is becoming clear however, that the rookie needs more seasoning and the Rangers have to seek a veteran backup.