Now it’s a slump. Playing a listless brand of hockey at home against a bitter rival, the Rangers were badly outplayed for the final two periods in a 3-0 shutout loss to the Flyers at a quiet MSG. It was the Flyers’ first win at The Garden in the last 11. They had lost 10 in a row. The Rangers have now dropped three in a row.
It started out okay. Dylan McIlrath delivered a clean check that injured Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz. The impact resulted in Luke Schenn taking up for a fallen teammate picking up an instigator and the extra 10 in a one-sided scrap with the much stronger McIlrath who gave him a beat down.
The Rangers had a good first period but were unable to beat Steve Mason, whose best save came on Dominic Moore. In on Mason, Moore had the Flyers netminder beat but his backhand was miraculously stopped by Mason’s stick shaft. A fantastic save. The kind that gave his team a lift.
Following a listless first, the Flyers responded the rest of the way by outshooting the Rangers 30-14. After only recording four shots in the opening 20 minutes, they were much more aggressive shooting from everywhere on tough luck loser Annti Raanta (31 saves). They were the aggressors taking advantage of poor puck management from the Blueshirts.
Raanta had already made some big saves on quality chances. But a Kevin Klein turnover in the neutral zone resulted in Wayne Simmonds beating him high glove on a breakaway. Matt Read made the play sending Simmonds in and he finally scored his fourth of the season. It was his first point in seven games. But the big man always does well against the Rangers. With two goals today including an empty netter, he now has 10 career goals versus the Broadway Blues.
It could’ve been a lot worse. The Flyers out-shot the Rangers 18-7 in the second. The theme was a familiar one. Sloppy defensive play. Bad turnovers. Credit the Flyers who adjusted by standing up at the blue line under first-year coach Dave Hakstol. They forced the Rangers into turnovers allowing them to transition the opposite way.
Simply put, there was no adjustment from the home team. They didn’t execute. The Rangers were stubborn continuing to try to carry the puck in. They refused to dump it in and use their speed to get behind a slow Flyers D which was down to five following Schultz’ injury. They made it easy on Philadelphia who improved to 2-0-0 in the season series. When’s the last time that happened?
In the third, it was more of the same. The Flyers with the better chances forcing Raanta into difficult saves. It would’ve been 6-0 if not for the brilliant play of the Finnish backup. He stopped 10 of 11 in the third.
Another uncharacteristic turnover from Klein resulted in the Flyers’ second goal. He was forced into it by Scott Laughton who fed the omnipresent Simmonds who was allowed to drive to the net as three Blueshirts watched. He got off a tough backhand that Raanta kicked out. But Sean Couturier was allowed to take two whacks and finally got just reward increasing to 2-0 with 16:54 remaining.
Trailing by two, they had to kill off a Flyers two-man advantage. With McIlrath off for a hook, Jarret Stoll took a bad penalty swiping the goalie stick from Mason on the penalty kill. It just added more time and allowed the guys in white, black and orange to keep the momentum even though they didn’t score.
The Rangers’ first game without Derek Stepan (broken ribs) wasn’t good enough. There were too many passengers. Coach Alain Vigneault mixed things up trying Chris Kreider with Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash. He also used Stoll a lot with the checking pivot getting 16 minutes and going 7-of-7 on face-offs. Dominic Moore also played nearly 17 minutes. Oddly enough, both checking centers got more time than Nash (15:49, 3 shots).
“We were just on the outside a lot,” Nash told MSG’s John Giannone in the post game. “In the second, we just didn’t respond well to it.”
Slumps happen. During a long 82-game schedule, they’re bound to happen. The Rangers were winning games due to their skill and goaltending. They weren’t playing great hockey. Defensively, there are issues that need correcting. Ditto for the puck management. We’ll see if they can get it fixed for Monday night against Carolina.