Unbrotherly Love: Kevin Hayes celebrates his goal versus his former team in a Flyers 5-2 win over the Rangers, who lost Chris Kreider to a broken foot. The rematch is Sunday. AP Photo credit Flyers via Getty Images
The five-game winning streak is history. It ended in very bad fashion last night in Philadelphia. After getting an early goal from Jesper Fast, it went all downhill for the Rangers, who not only lost 5-2 to the Flyers. But also likely will be without Chris Kreider the rest of the regular season.
At the halfway mark of the first period, Kreider blocked a hard shot from Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers. After coming back for one more shift, he was done for the game. Unfortunately, it’ll be much longer. It was revealed that he suffered a fractured foot on the shot block.
That is a bitter pill to swallow. With 18 games left, the Blueshirts will have to respond to adversity without the valuable power forward, who is more than just his 24 goals and 21 assists for a total of 45 points. They certainly missed the well respected 28-year old veteran for the remainder of what was a sloppily played match by the Rangers. The end result was predictable with the Flyers putting an end to the franchise record nine-game road win streak.
There would be no miracle comeback in the later stages on Friday night. The Flyers aren’t the Canadiens. One of the league’s best home teams, they scored five in a row following the Fast tally to improve to 23-5-4 at Wells Fargo Center. Only the NHL best Bruins have lost fewer home games in regulation. They are a much better team at home in front of the rambunctious Flyer crowd.
The Rangers have learned that lesson twice. Before Christmas, they lost 5-1 to Kevin Hayes, who scored twice on former teammate Henrik Lundqvist, who could only sit and watch as they did the same exact thing to Alex Georgiev. He didn’t have much of a chance on most of the five goals. This was just a butt kicking by a more focused opponent that has been red hot. In fact, combined with the suddenly slumping Pens losing a fifth straight to the Ducks, it’s now the Flyers who sit in second place in the Metro with 81 points.
Former Ranger coach Alain Vigneault has his new team playing good hockey. They trail the Caps for first by only three. Both teams have 18 games remaining. So do the Blueshirts, who stayed two points out of the second wildcard due to the Blue Jackets getting shutout at home 5-0 by the Wild. They only have 16 left. The Hurricanes also were losers in regulation by a count of 3-2 to the Avalanche at home. Colorado used a late goal from Samuel Girard with 2:37 left in regulation to do in a Carolina rally from two down.
Here’s the thing. While it’s obvious that the teams they’re competing with for the playoffs are bruised and battered, it’s going to take a lot for the Rangers to pull this off. Now without their explosive power forward who doubles as the net front presence while having unreal chemistry with bummed out teammate Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, it’s time for other players to step up in his absence.
I’m looking at you Kaapo Kakko, whose confidence has grown. Now could be the right time to find out what the gifted teenager can do. It will all depend on what Quinn thinks is best during each game. We know he isn’t afraid to tinker with the lines in search of the right combo. He tried Kakko for a shift and even Phil Di Giuseppe and Brett Howden, who’s playing his best hockey of the season. He got his ninth with 26 seconds left to at least end the game on the right note. The big rematch is Sunday at noon on NBC.
If not Kakko, then perhaps we’ll see more of Zibanejad being teamed up with Artemi Panarin and Fast. For Panarin, it might’ve been his worst game of the season. His turnover led to a Claude Giroux goal 2:05 after James van Riemsdyk put home a rebound to give the Flyers the lead for good. The Bread Man did manage to pick up an early assist for his team-leading 88th point. However, he wasn’t a factor finishing minus-two with three shots. His best chance to score came with the game still tied when Carter Hart robbed him on a one-timer.
Another young player who must come to the forefront is Filip Chytil. Moved back to center the third line by Quinn, he only had one shot on goal and lost 10 of 12 face-offs. As a team, the Rangers got destroyed by the Flyers on draws 36-17. In his second year, Chytil has a new career high with 13 goals. One better than last season. However, he needs to find consistency. They’re going to need him down the stretch in order to be successful.
Kreider’s injury also means someone should come up from Hartford. The candidates include Vinni Lettieri, Tim Gettinger, Steven Fogarty, Boo Nieves and Vitali Kravtsov. If I had a early guess, I would expect it either to be Gettinger or Nieves. Both of who have played in games this season. Lettieri is interesting because he leads the Wolf Pack in goals (25) and points (44). But it doesn’t seem like they favor him. In 46 career NHL games all with the Rangers, he’s got two goals and six assists.
For now, Quinn can reinsert 13th forward Greg McKegg. The Keg Man looked good in his return in place of Buchnevich, who missed two games due to the car accident he was involved in with injured starting goalie Igor Shesterkin. McKegg even scored a big goal on a great tip in during the Islander win. He can slide back in and center the fourth line. If they go that route, maybe Howden shifts back to center the third line while they use Chytil on the wing for more creativity. He’s got a scorers instinct. It would make sense.
Losing Kreider also affects the power play. He’s second in power play goals with nine. His job screening goalies is so vital. Last night, nobody did it effectively to distract Hart, who played well in finishing with 26 saves. The Rangers went 0-for-3 while the Flyers went 1-for-3, getting a big one from Claude Giroux on a great tip in off a terrific Jake Voracek pass. That made the score 4-1 following an ill advised Buchnevich hi-sticking minor in the offensive zone. He didn’t get many shifts following it.
The best solution to screen goalies is the ornery Brendan Lemieux. He was used on the second unit later on. An agitating player, Lemieux will need to up his game. He certainly brings an edge and pushes the envelope. How he’s used will be interesting.
In terms of the final score, the Rangers got what they deserved. They became sloppy resulting in poor puck management and costly turnovers that led to Flyers goals. Something Quinn alluded to afterwards. He indicated that he liked their start and felt they were fine in the first half of the second. But the goal from van Riemsdyk seemed to deflate them. It was off a Marc Staal turnover inside the Philadelphia zone. It wasn’t his best game or partner Tony DeAngelo’s. They went a combined minus-five.
Playing for the second straight night coming off an emotional 5-2 win over the Habs, the Rangers got the right start when Fast was able to beat Hart in close for his 12th at 2:49. The goal gives him four over the last five games. He needs one more to match his career high. Panarin had the lone assist.
In a period where no penalties were called, Georgiev made some good saves to keep his team ahead. However, a mix-up behind the net between Jacob Trouba and Brendan Smith, who broke his stick, allowed Voracek to come out and feed Sean Couturier for the tying goal at 16:07. Ivan Provorov added an assist. Couturier beat Zibanejad to the front for the easy put away. It was his 20th. Zibanejad had a night to forget going minus-four.
The Flyers double up the Rangers in shots 16-8 for the period. They also went 10-and-1 on face-offs. Yikes.
For the most part, they had their chances in the second period. With the score tied at one and Myers off for holding Howden, the Rangers moved the puck around well until Panarin was set up for a good shot that Hart got across on to deny him with his stick. It was a huge save.
The game got a little strange when they made a bad call on Adam Fox for holding Voracek. I hated it. It was a nothing call. Even Joe Micheletti joked about it to Sam Rosen. Less than a minute into the power play, Provorov interfered with Howden, who went down at his blueline. But despite this, they actually called Howden too for hi-sticking while he was off balance in the air. Just brutal. What was he supposed to do? He was the one that got knocked down illegally.
Following the chaos created by the refs, Staal fired a bad shot right into the Flyer defense. They quickly transitioned the opposite direction causing Scott Laughton to pass for a good low shot from Nicholas Aube-Kubel that Georgiev leaked out right to van Riemsdyk for a rebound into an open side at exactly 13:00. DeAngelo was out of position on it.
Over two minutes later, a lazy Panarin turnover inside his zone allowed the Flyers to maintain control. Eventually due to the forecheck pressure of Voracek and Couturier, the Flyers center setup an open Giroux for a one-timer that beat Georgiev high glove for a 3-1 lead. It was a good shot, but definitely one he would like to have back.
A foolish Michael Raffl hooking minor into the hardworking Howden handed the Rangers a big power play opportunity with 1:56 left. But rather than cash in and make things interesting, they over passed the puck. Hart didn’t have to do too much here. That allowed the Flyers to essentially kill the penalty and take a two-goal lead to the locker room.
Following the power play expiring at the start of the third, Buchnevich reached around with his stick on the forecheck and got defenseman Travis Sanheim 1:39 in. It was one of those mindless stick infractions in the offensive zone Quinn has no use for. It took the Flyers 57 seconds to methodically move the puck around until Voracek made a great pass underneath Ryan Lindgren for a Giroux tip in at 2:36. It was his second of the game increasing to a 4-1 lead.
Starting to become frustrated, Fox went back at Hayes following a clean check to go off for cross checking. It was that kind of night. Even though they killed the penalty, they couldn’t take advantage of a Voracek delay of game a few minutes later. Panarin hit the crossbar on one end. Then, the Flyers came down the other and scored. Hayes put it out of reach by converting a Voracek cross ice feed for his third goal in two games versus his former team. A sliding DeAngelo had initially stopped Laughton, but Voracek recovered the puck and picked up his fourth assist of the game.
Nearing the end, Lindgren had enough of Laughton taking him off the ice for matching roughs with 1:15 remaining. That’s the way Lindgren plays every shift. On a good late shift, Fox took a Buchnevich feed and fired a shot off Hart right to Howden, who got rewarded with his ninth goal at 19:34.
Even though it was just bookkeeping, it was a good way to finish a tough loss. Maybe they can build upon it tomorrow. That’s one of those dreaded noon NBC starts. They better set their alarm clocks and get it in gear. It’s a must win.
Who goes is the question? Will Quinn stick with Georgiev despite the heavy workload? Or is this the right moment for Henrik Lundqvist to come in in front of the home fans and deliver a big game? I could see it considering that it’s at MSG and you know the crowd will be very supportive. It could be one of his final starts at home. That’s up to Quinn.
Lundqvist hasn’t started since Feb. 3. You know he’s chopping at the bit to get back in and contribute. If Quinn does go to him, there will be pressure. We’ll see what happens.
What we do know is no Kreider for the next month at least if not more. What a bummer. Especially the way the week started with him re-signing. Now, it’s up to the rest of the team. They are still in this. They have a lot of character. We’re about to find out how much.
Battle Of Three 🌟
3rd 🌟 Sean Couturier, Flyers (20th of season plus 🍎, +1 in 17:45 and 5-for-8 on draws)
2nd 🌟 Jake Voracek, Flyers (4 assists including 3 primary with his best the setup for Giroux PPG, +2 in 14:42)
1st 🌟 Claude Giroux, Flyers (2 goals for numbers 18, 19, 13-for-16 on draws, +1 in 14:42)