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Coyotes need contributions from key players to stop tailspin

New York Islanders left wing Nikolay Kulemin (86) fights through Arizona Coyotes defenseman Connor Murphy (5), defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) and right wing Radim Vrbata (17) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in New York. The Islanders won 3-2. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

NEW YORK — When the season opened, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett knew the monumental challenges his team was facing with five rookies in the lineup.

That’s why he put such an onus on the team’s leadership to establish a consistent compete level. That’s why he asked players such as Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Tobias Rieder and Jordan Martinook to help drive the bus to greater success by joining his middle group of players in their prime — guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Martin Hanzal.

Through four games, that middle group hasn’t taken enough time at the wheel.

Hanzal had a goal and an assist in the home opener against Philadelphia, but hasn’t notched a point since and he is minus-three. Ekman-Larsson had goals in each of the first two games, but he has no assists and no points in the last two losses to Montreal and the New York Islanders.

Last year’s rookie phenoms have fared even worse. Domi has one assist and is a minus-four. Duclair hadn’t registered a point and is also minus-four.

“It starts with me,” Hanzal said. “It starts with the leadership and all the way through our lineup. We are there, but we are not right there. We are close enough but not good enough. In this league, you can be OK but you have to be great to win hockey games and we’re just OK.”

If that group had been a little better the Coyotes might be singing a different tune on this six-game road trip, which has started with three straight losses. They are getting contributions from their veterans this season.

Center Brad Richardson is tied for the team-lead with two goals and four points and has a point in every game. Captain Shane Doan has a goal and two assists. Defenseman Alex Goligoski has three assists and wing Radim Vrbata has a goal and two assists.

They’re even getting contributions from a couple of those would-be middle-group guys. Martinook has been one of the team’s best players early in the season. Aside from his two goals and two assists, Martinook has been an absolute hound on the puck, the proverbial hard player to play against. Rieder has also chipped in with a goal and an assist.

“We’ve got Richardson and Martinook playing hard but they’re the guys leading our scoring so we need some scoring throughout the whole lineup,” Tippett said. “We could take a few more results from some other guys. We have to keep working at it. Lots of opportunity for them to get out of it.”

The Coyotes will face arguably the most talented of the six teams they play on this trip when they meet the New York Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. It hasn’t helped that goalie Mike Smith is back home with a left leg injury whose details and extent still have not been determined.

Louis Domingue struggled in a relief appearance in Ottawa and his first start in Montreal. He played better against the Islanders with several quality saves, but a soft goal in the third period was the difference in the loss.

Tippett said he would talk to goalie coach Jon Elkin on Saturday and determine whether Domingue warrants another start or they will turn to veteran Justin Peters. Whoever starts in goal, the Coyotes will need a more widespread effort to keep this trip from burying them in an early hole.

“We have to find a way,” Hanzal said. “We have to turn it around and it starts with the next game. Everybody has to chip in. Everybody has to be on the same page. Every single guy through the whole lineup has to work hard every single night or we don’t have a chance to win a hockey game.”

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Coyotes at Rangers

When: 4 p.m., Sunday

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Records: Coyotes 1-3. Rangers 3-2.

Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (left leg) is day to day. LW Jamie McGinn (upper body) is on IR. Rangers — F Oscar Lindberg (hip) is on IR. D Dan Girardi (groin) and F Pavel Buchnevich (back) are day to day.

Scouting the Rangers: The Rangers scored four unanswered goals – including the tying and winning markers three minutes apart by Jimmy Vesey – to rally past the Capitals on Saturday. … Chris Kreider leads the team with three goals and seven points. … New York traded center Derick Brassard to Ottawa this summer for younger center Mika Zibanejad (two goals, six points). … The Rangers also signed prized free agent wing Jimmy Vesey. … New York’s golatenders have not fared well early in the season. Henrik Lundqvist has an .891 save percentage and Antti Raanta is at .871.

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