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. Close doesn't count.
In the first stop of a three-game western swing 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 at 9:42 of the third period, his 30th of the season and first in six games, 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.
The Rangers (24-24-7) have earned four points in the last nine games and have fallen out of a playoff spot in the East.
"I don't know if 'encouraging' is the word," Vinny Prospal said. "We have to generate offense somehow, not just when we're down 3-nothing."
The three early goals "doesn't help momentum," coach John Tortorella said. "I thought we battled back and regrouped and made a game out of it."
But the coach and several players agreed that seven penalties halted any consistent attack as the Rangers tried to claw back. "I thought our penalty-killing was outstanding," Tortorella said, "but it's just too many."
Johnson, who learned Saturday morning that he would step in for the flu-ridden Henrik Lundqvist, said the first period "set the tone. It was a big uphill climb."
Shane Doan put the Coyotes ahead 1-0 at 6:06. He scooted through two Rangers and 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, and Michael Del Zotto took responsibility. "I've got to get either the puck or take the man,'' he said, "and I didn't do either."
Mikkel Boedker, called up Saturday for the injured Scotty Upshall, made it 2-0 only 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.
Johnson, 23, who is 0-2-1, settled down and ended with 17 consecutive saves. "He stayed within himself. He didn't get into a panic," Tortorella said. "I thought he fought the rebounds a little bit, but that's a good sign for him."