Game #65 Flyers dominate undisciplined Rangers on special teams to deal a big loss, Strome benched, Comeback falls short


Newest Flyer Derek Grant shows off his two pucks after scoring his first goal and assist as a Flyer in a 5-3 win over an undisciplined Rangers, who wasted a big opportunity on Sunday. AP Photo credit Flyers via Getty Images

Any loss at this point of the season is bad. That’s understood. The Rangers weren’t ready to play hockey today. They got what they deserved. An ugly 5-3 loss to the Flyers, who swept the home-and-home series at MSG.

By losing again to the Alain Vigneault and Kevin Hayes Flyers, they’re now 0 for 3 against them having allowed five goals in each loss. That’s sad. Even sadder were the special teams. The Rangers took some very undisciplined penalties to cost themselves a golden opportunity. The Flyers made them pay by connecting for three power play goals and even a gut wrenching one shorthanded that really hurt.

It was so bad that Ryan Strome got benched by coach David Quinn for the entire third period after his second awful penalty led directly to a Travis Konecny power play goal. That made it 5-1. It took all of five seconds for Jake Voracek to set up Konecny. Strome never saw the ice again. He earned his seat.

In the first start by Henrik Lundqvist in nearly a month, it was an unmitigated disaster. After he made a first save to cheers from the supportive home crowd, it turned ugly real fast. A very bad Ryan Lindgren hooking minor 23 seconds into play guaranteed that. Before two minutes had been played, Matt Niskanen tapped in his eighth from Nicholas Aube-Kubel and Travis Sanheim at 1:52.

Even though the game remained 1-0 Flyers for a while, you never got the sense the Rangers were in it. They misfired on some chances during a power play drawn by Brendan Lemieux. The first unit held the puck for a long time by patiently moving it around. But Mika Zibanejad missed on a great opportunity that would’ve tied it. That would cause frustration later in the period.

The Flyers did a good job limiting Ranger shots. While they were willing to test a rusty Lundqvist from everywhere, the home team didn’t get enough shots on Carter Hart early. They let him get comfortable. He’s been playing well. By not being more aggressive shooting the puck, it only hurt themselves. They needed a better start with Lundqvist not sharp.

A tacky Strome penalty for hooking Voracek, who embellished it, didn’t help matters. While I hated the call, the penalty kill barely tried. They seemingly gave the Flyers too much space and watched them move the puck around until Voracek wisely threw a low shot at Lundqvist that he gave up a bad rebound on right to Sean Couturier for a tap in at 11:19 that made it 2-0.

Even if I didn’t like the penalty on Strome, it was another example of him taking an unnecessary minor in the offensive zone. He takes a lot of them due to being lazy with his stick. A bad habit that must be corrected the last 17 games for the team to have any chance at the playoffs. By losing, they now most hope Vancouver can go into Columbus later and keep them reeling. I wouldn’t bank on it. The Rangers have their own issues with the Blues coming in Tuesday.

Prior to Hayes tripping up Brendan Smith, the afternoon crowd were all over the refs for a missed stick hold on Julien Gauthier. However, Hayes went to the box for tripping Smith. This was a chance to breathe some life into the building. Instead, the top unit stayed out too long and gave up a draining shorthanded goal to noted sniper Michael Raffl. This was embarrassing. They lost the puck at the Flyers blueline and allowed a two on none with Derek Grant passing for Raffl, whose backhand beat Lundqvist for a 3-0 lead with 2:07 left.

What a disastrous period. Not only were they abominable. But they didn’t exactly help out Lundqvist in his return. You don’t get a penalty 23 seconds in from one of your best defensemen, who doubles on the penalty kill. And you certainly don’t kill penalties like you’re allergic to the puck and the opponent. This was one of the worst periods of the season. The rebound Lundqvist allowed on the second goal was horrible. It also was predictable.

There were so many things wrong that it really fell apart fast. The second was no better. Before I even got back from a stop at the deli, it was 4-0 Flyers. Apparently, Grant was permitted to go right through the defense and beat a slow reacting Lundqvist, who went for the poke check. That made it a four goal deficit for the Rangers.

Humiliating would be one way to describe it. In a game they needed, there was zero urgency. Why should I rush back to see them mail it in? It was no better when I walked back in. At least I enjoyed my roast beef and hot peppers. It was like they said to Lundqvist, “Welcome back. Hope you missed this.”

I am not going to pin blame on the goalie for this one. He hadn’t played since Feb. 3. They set him up to fail. It would’ve been nice of them to come out sharper. That was the most disappointing aspect. I half wondered if he’ll ever get another game. There are 17 left. Alex Georgiev needed a rest after going three games over four nights. Despite what drunk Mike Milbury said on NBC, he was wrong. This would’ve been start four in less than six nights. Not ideal. How Milbury stays employed while Jeremy Roenick isn’t is one of life’s great mysteries.

The bottom line is the Rangers took a risk. They can’t start Georgiev in every game. Lundqvist wasn’t up to the challenge. But this was a piss poor effort by the team until the third period. Why they waited so long to finally play is better left for them to answer. Chris Kreider or no Chris Kreider.

I didn’t care for the officiating. In a reputation call, they sent Brendan Lemieux to the box for 12 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and a tacky misconduct. How dare him challenge Aube-Kubel with his team looking like they saw dead people. That put the Blueshirts a man down. They managed to kill a penalty. Miraculous in itself.

The Flyers gave them opportunities to come back. Zibanejad drew consecutive penalties on Nate Thompson (hi-sticking) and Sanheim (tripping). On the first one, it took Zibanejad all of 13 seconds to neatly deflect an Artemi Panarin pass by Hart for a career high 31st goal that cut it to 4-1 with 7:26 left in the second. Tony DeAngelo added a secondary helper.

On the second, they were unable to cash in. Had they, things could’ve gotten interesting. The best chance came from Pavel Buchnevich, who had some room in front. But instead of taking the puck to the net and trying a backhand, he passed it instead to no avail. He was in the spot Kreider usually occupies. Buchnevich is a different style player. But he is getting better at playing a more involved game for offense. Something we saw later.

Following the Flyer penalty kill, then Strome took his ill advised slash on Robert Hagg. This came nine seconds following the power play. What happened next was so predictable, it was like they saw their shadow. Off a face-off win, they watched Provorov and Voracek combine to setup Konecny for a tip in front for his 23rd to restore a four goal lead at 15:34. That gave Voracek six assists in the two game series. It was way too easy.

As soon as Strome got back to the bench, his day was done. He did it to himself. At that point, the Flyers were 3-for-4 on the power play and one other goal came shorthanded. They only had one even strength goal which was early in the period on a defensive breakdown. There was so much not to like about the Rangers game, it was too much to list. They only got five shots in the second. Pathetic.

In the third, they decided to try. After getting outshot 20-14, Quinn mixed up his lines. Strome was never seen again. Filip Chytil centered the second line. Panarin was teamed up with Zibanejad. Howden got bumped up.

Buchnevich drew a interference minor on Niskanen. He got rewarded for drawing the penalty when he was able to redirect a harmless DeAngelo wrist shot by Hart from Zibanejad only 12 seconds in for his 15th goal. That cut the deficit to three with 14:27 remaining.

Kaapo Kakko, who much earlier was robbed by Hart, drew a tripping minor on Thompson with 8:31 left in regulation. This time with Howden taking Strome’s place on the top unit, he kept the puck in the zone with some hustle. Panarin then passed for an open Zibanejad in front. One on one with Hart, he had a sweet finish going forehand, backhand top shelf for his 32nd goal at 12:39. It was the third power play goal of the game for the Rangers and gave Zibanejad three points (2-1-3). Panarin picked up his second assist to reach 90 points for the first time in his career.

With still 6:21 left in regulation, there was enough time. Suddenly with the momentum, the Rangers attacked the Flyers at every turn. A great move by Buchnevich behind the net and terrific pass in front nearly resulted in a hat trick for Zibanejad. But Hart made the biggest save of the game to deny his bid. Had he scored there, who knows what could’ve happened.

The Blueshirts would generate more chances in by far their best period by outshooting the Flyers 12-6. They just couldn’t get the one goal they needed to make it interesting. Even with Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker with over two minutes left, they threatened but couldn’t get the one shot by Hart to make their opponent sweat.

Philadelphia did a good job keying on Panarin. They took away his big shot and even limited Zibanejad, who spent a lot of time behind the net. Despite all the puck possession and no Flyers empty netter, the Rangers would fall short in their comeback attempt.

It was too little, too late. Now, it’s time to regroup. These last two games were a bust. Nobody from Hartford was recalled for Kreider. We’ll see if that changes by Tuesday. One thing that must change is Strome and his bad penalties. He really cost the team. So did Lindgren. You can’t do that against good opponents. They’ll make you pay.

Right now, the Flyers have won six in a row and sit a point out of first place in the Metro. The Caps play later. The way Vigneault has his team playing, would it surprise anyone if they won the division and made a run? They’re getting good goaltending from Hart, improved team defense (not kidding) and balanced scoring. They have strong special teams and are deep at center. They’re a threat.

While the Rangers try to figure their way out in the wildcard race, the AV Flyers could wind up reaching the Conference Finals. Especially the way the Caps and Pens have struggled. I knew they’d be good. Maybe not this good.

Somehow, some way, the Rangers better figure it out. There’s still a great opportunity to do something here in a mediocre conference. It won’t get any easier.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (2 PPG for new career high 32 goals plus 🍎, 6 shots, -1 in 23:56)

2nd 🌟 Jake Voracek, Flyers (2 primary assists on two power play goals, 6 assists in the 2 Flyer wins)

1st 🌟 Derek Grant, Flyers (game-winner for 15th plus 🍎, +2 in 14:37)

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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