For a fourth line that had never skated together in a game, it was quite a night. Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, in his second NHL game overall and first this season, had three assists and wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Michael Grabner each scored twice in the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Coyotes on Thursday night.
With the arrival of natural center Nieves, 23, from Hartford on Wednesday, Alain Vigneault abandoned the 11-forward, seven-defensemen format he had used five times in 10 games.
“We meshed really well,” said the 6-3 Nieves, the first Ranger to have three assists in one of his first two NHL games since Dom Moore in 2003. “I tried to get all the jitters out in warmups. Grabner’s a really fast player, so it’s easy to keep up. Buchnevich can put the puck anywhere. They made my transition pretty easy. ”
Since the Derek Stepan trade and the loss of Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft, the Rangers have needed depth at center. Nieves might be an answer. “I know every night’s not going to be like this,” said Nieves, who was named first star for his performance. He did flub one attempt: His parents and brother were at the game and he tried to toss a puck to his sibling, “but I think I overthrew it.”
Buchnevich’s first goal came when his left-side shot zipped past Adin Hill’s glove and in off the far post, and he showed a lot of poise on the second. When his deflection went off the back glass and caromed, he waited and buried the shot. “He wanted it tonight,” Ryan McDonagh said. “You could see the power behind it, the accuracy behind it, and just that quick release. He was feeling it tonight.” . . . Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who earned his first win for the Blueshirts, said Grabner’s first goal, 49 seconds after the Coyotes moved within 2-1, “was the key to the win. We get momentum back right away.”