Game #35: Christmas blah shootout Flyers 3 Rangers 2

Chris Kreider celebrated his 17th goal of the season in the first period past Michal Neuvirth. Ultimately, the Rangers lost to the Flyers 3-2 in a shootout before the Christmas break. AP Photo courtesy Getty Images

The shootout is such a crummy way to decide these games. Especially following an exciting five-minute three-on-three. So, the Rangers were victimized in the skill competition by the Flyers to drop the final game before Christmas, 3-2.

It’s a flip of the coin. Only I wish it were one-sided like the evil Two Face. I know he usually used both sides as Harvey Dent. But the shootout is blah at this point. There are still quite a few games that go to it for the extra point. Too much for my liking. Nothing against the shooters or goalies. I would prefer continuous three-on-three until someone wins. It’s too exhilarating not to. Fans love it.

I wonder if Hasan agrees with me. Any time you lose in the shootout, it feels like a real loss. It’s annoying. If we took a poll, how many would agree? Shootouts are fine as a last option for tournaments. Even the World Junior Championship, which went there for Team USA’s gold medal victory over Canada a couple of years ago.

When push comes to shove, most hockey purists want these games to get decided in regulation before the artificial part. Even three-on-three is like watching pond hockey. But at least it’s up and down. Some of the crazy line changes off resets tonight were interesting. Marc Staal got a shift in it as a reward because he’s been noticeably more confident at jumping into the rush. Similar to what he once was in 2012 before all the injuries. He had another assist in the actual game, boosting his point total to nine.

I know it seems crazy. But Staal is back to playing the 200 foot game under David Quinn that made him such a good player. There’s even a chance he’s raised his stock. Could he be an option for a high scoring team that could use some grit and experience like the Maple Leafs? Only if the Rangers could pick up a nice portion of the remaining years. Armageddon is coming for Toronto next summer with key restricted free agents Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. They will have some very tough decisions with other supporting cast players.

Staal is no longer the useless player he was in the awful Alain Vigneault days. A system that too often broke down due to all the switching between D and forwards. It helps that the defunct Rangers captain is healthy again. His skating is better, and he’s more confident. Sure. He got caught for the first Flyers goal from Rangers killer Michael Raffl. That doesn’t happen too often. There’s a reason Staal remains the team’s best defenseman with a plus-four rating. He is usually in the right position.

I wonder if a contender would consider acquiring the 31-year old defenseman for a run. His average cap hit is $5.7 million, and is owed $9.2 million for the final two years of the contract. If you put Staal on Toronto, he wouldn’t have to play top pair like here. He can be plugged in on the second pair or even third pair in another situation. If there is interest, the Rangers would be nuts not to explore it.

As for Mats Zuccarello, he looks like a broken player. He isn’t much of a factor at five-on-five and is way too predictable on the power play. I don’t see the point of force feeding him on the top unit over the more explosive Filip Chytil, who looks dangerous during most shifts. I love seeing him play with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. I want to see more following the break. Zuccarello is with Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider. Both are carrying him. The more I watch Zuccarello, the sadder I get because he’s breaking down from the gritty style he played. Especially for his Theo Fleury frame. Unless he has a good spurt, his value is decreasing. They aren’t gonna get as much for this watered down version.

Both teams looked like they were playing the second of a back-to-back before the mini vacation. It was Henrik Lundqvist versus Michal Neuvirth in net. Honestly, Neuvirth was better throughout making the tougher stops to garner the game’s number one star. He finished with 32 saves and stopped all four Rangers shooters to earn the victory.

Kreider got the scoring started halfway through the first period. On a good defensive play by Staal, he moved the puck up the wall to Kevin Hayes, who trapped a Flyer to create a two-on-one. He patiently protected the puck along the wall in the neutral zone and made a perfect pass for the trailer Kreider, who skated in and shot low to the blocker to beat Neuvirth for his team-leading 17th. It was his second consecutive game with a goal and third over the last four. He enters the break with 25 points (17-8-25) and is on track for over 30 goals and 50-plus points.

The primary assist increased Hayes’ point streak to seven. Over that span, he’s been dominant posting five multiple point games to go 5-8-13 with a plus-six rating. He’s now tied with Zibanejad for the team scoring lead with 30 points (10-20-30). It’s no fluke either as Hayes had become the team’s best player. He can be trusted in any situation by the coaching staff. The big question is what will the organization decide by the trade deadline. As much as I’d love to keep him, I think you have to make the move because his value continues to increase exponentially. If a team is going to offer a blue chip prospect and a first round pick with a conditional pick (2nd), they have to do it. It’s what is best for the long-term. I can’t predict what they’re thinking. They’re gonna be in the exact same situation with Kreider next year.

Philadelphia evened it up on a goal by who else but Raffl. He can’t score against anyone else. So, of course he got his first of the season since last scoring against us because we can’t have good things this holiday season. You cannot make it up. Staal pinched which left only Neal Pionk back. He gave Raffl the shot and to his credit, he did the old Messier lift of the leg and snapped one past Lundqvist high glove side.

This team dominated most of the third. However, they have had issues with line changes. Another ho hum bench minor handed the 31st ranked power play a chance. I can’t believe the Flyers with their personnel could be that bad. Of course, they took full advantage of the Rangers’ seventh too many men on the ice minor penalty. Old nemesis Wayne Simmonds cashed in his 11th by following up a Sean Couturier shot off the post to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead at 5:01.

But the Rangers had a great response from the improving fourth line. Only 22 seconds later, rookie Lias Andersson took a Flyer off the puck behind the net with a good hit. He then set up a wide open Boo Nieves for his first goal to tie the score at 5:23. Just a well executed play that came out of hard work. The last two games from Andersson have been good. He seems to finally be getting it. That line with him, Nieves and Ryan Strome have good cohesion. They still need work defensively. But I like what I see.

That was it for the scoring. Despite outshooting the Flyers 13-5 in the third, the Blueshirts couldn’t put another one past Neuvirth. The three-on-three overtime was cool. You had the Rangers pinning the Flyers in for a while with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere caught out forever with the long change. Chytil and Hayes with Brady Skjei, who had a better game, couldn’t take advantage.

Lundqvist shutdown Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim (primary assist) from a tricky angle. Shots were 3-2 Rangers in the OT. Overall, they held a 34-31 edge in the game portion.

Interestingly, they opted to shoot second. A preference Lundqvist likes that has had good success on the road. He did his part stopping the Flyers first three shooters, Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. The trouble was old reliable shooters Zuccarello and Zibanejad couldn’t solve Neuvirth. Neither did Buchnevich after a series of moves. That left it up to Nolan Patrick. He had a nice snipe, coming in fast and picking high glove on Lundqvist.

Out stepped Hayes in the bottom of the fourth. He made a great move and had Neuvirth dead to rights. But his backhand tuck just missed wide to hand the Flyers their fifth straight win against the Rangers. Yep. We now can’t beat them. Even on a night when they deserved a better fate.

It’s break time. I’ll be doing some write ups on the WJC that begins on Boxing Day (12/26). Keep an eye out for it.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Michael Raffl, Flyers (goal-1st of season, even in 15:22)

2nd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, Rangers (primary assist on Kreider goal, +1 in 23:15)

1st 🌟 Michal Neuvirth, Flyers (32 saves including 4 for 4 in shootout)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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