GLENDALE, Ariz. — Radim Vrbata scored three goals, Mike Smith stopped 23 shots, and the Phoenix Coyotes opened their first season with an owner in four years by routing the New York Rangers 4-1 on Thursday night.
With NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the club’s new owners in attendance, the Coyotes turned a tight game into a one-sided contest behind Vrbata’s second straight hat trick — dating to last season — and fifth of his career.
Kyle Chipchura also scored, Martin Hanzal had two assists, and Smith made some tough saves on a pair of early penalty kills, including one from his stomach on a shot by Benoit Pouliot.
Marc Staal scored a power-play goal for the short-handed Rangers in their first game under new coach Alain Vigneault.
This opening night in the desert was one many didn’t think would ever come.
Ownerless since Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy in 2009, the Coyotes spent the previous four years playing under the shadow of an uncertain future, never knowing if each season would be their last in Arizona.
That changed over the summer, when George Gosbee, Anthony LeBlanc and the rest of IceArizona followed through where so many suitors had failed, purchasing the franchise from the NHL for $170 million.
The deal revitalized the fan base and immediately triggered a change of fortune, giving Phoenix the financial footing to compete with the NHL’s other 29 teams. The new ownership allowed the Coyotes to keep general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett in place, prevent Smith from signing elsewhere, and snag Mike Ribeiro, the top-line center they were unable to lure while under the constraints of being run by the league.
Vrbata got the new era off to a great start
The Rangers went into this season with a fresh start of sorts, as well.
Following the firing of coach John Tortorella, New York turned to Vigneault. The former Vancouver coach brought with him a softer voice than the growling Tortorella — not a hard thing to do — and promised an aggressive, attacking style.
The Rangers faced some big obstacles to start the season, though.
Captain Ryan Callahan was out for at least the opener, and forward Carl Hagelin will be out at least the first 10 games, both with shoulder injuries. New York also starts with a daunting road trip, playing nine games in 23 days away from home because of renovations to Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers looked sluggish early in the opener, and Phoenix capitalized with Chipchura scoring on a one-timer off a feed from Rob Klinkhammer from behind the net.
New York picked up the pace late in the first period and early in the second, tying it early on a goal by the defenseman Staal, who beat Smith with a wrister to the stick side.
It was all Coyotes after that.
Vrbata scored less than four minutes after Staal’s goal, collecting his own rebound and lifting it over Henrik Lundqvist. Vrbata made it 3-1 early in the third period on a power play, beating Lundqvist from above the left circle on a shot through traffic.
He put the game away and sent the hats flying to the ice by completing the natural hat trick on a 4-on-4, punching in a rebound after creating a turnover behind New York’s net. Vrbata also had three goals in last season’s finale against Anaheim.
NOTES: The Coyotes will play their next five games on the road, starting at San Jose on Saturday night. … Rangers C Dominic Moore was on the ice for the first time in over a year after missing last season due to the death of his wife, Katie. … Rangers C Derek Stepan, who signed a two-year contract late in training camp, had an assist. … Phoenix played without D Rostislav Klesla (concussion) and F Paul Bissonnette (suspension).