Voracek burns Rangers in a frustrating overtime loss


This one is hard to explain. Not so much because the Rangers blew a chance at two points. But just how unpredictable and frustrating the 5-4 overtime loss was to the equally Jekyll and Hyde Flyers at Madison Square Garden.

It was a tale of two very different games in the third meeting of eight between the classic Patrick Division rivals. There was the first part which the Flyers dominated rather quickly by getting the first two goals on Keith Kinkaid within a 1:18 span. Both a result of some hideous defensive play and a lost face-off. Stuff that can’t happen if you want to get back in the division playoff race.

Then there was the crazy second part that saw the Blueshirts wake up and take it to the Flyers by scoring three in a row on a shocked Carter Hart over a 7:04 span. They totally reversed course to take a one-goal lead and could’ve had more. Instead, a stick foul resulted in a critical tying power play goal that set the stage for more bizarre play ahead.

The third part was a rare sight with the fourth line putting the Rangers back ahead before yet another undisciplined stick foul allowed the Flyers to tie it up again. Deadlocked, another bad stick foul almost turned into disaster for the Rangers, who thankfully realized the apparent go-ahead power play goal was offside. A successful challenge that was easy to notice even after seeing it live. How the four officials didn’t is beyond me. But they didn’t have a good night and neither did either team.

The final part was mystifying. You had whoever the three skaters wearing Broadway Blueshirts dominating puck possession in a lopsided three-on-three overtime. Only they kept skating, passing, skating, passing and resetting. There was hardly any shooting. Eventually, it led to the Flyers scoring on their one opportunity that left a bitter taste.

It really summed up the season. Twenty-seven games in, this is who the Rangers are. It was all rolled into one for 63:47 until Jakub Voracek ended it by beating Kinkaid badly on a clean breakaway to end it in favor of the Flyers, who were all smiles. Why not. They got away with one. I have no idea how that team with their talent can play such a sloppy game. They did and won to inch closer to the slumping Bruins (4-1 losers to the Pens).

Before breaking this one down, I want to note five key skaters for our side that really fell short in Monday night’s latest one-goal defeat.

93 Zibanejad 0-0-0 -3 2 SOG

20 Kreider 0-0-0 -2 3 SOG

24 Kakko 0-0-0 -2 0 SOG

79 Miller 0-0-0 -1 1 SOG

8 Trouba 0-0-0 -1 3 SOG

Those five Rangers were the only minuses in this crucial game if you are waving the pom poms like Sam and Joe. If you’re like me, you know better. However, like I told someone the other day, these were the two games to show something. They already lost one even though the Flyers tried their best to hand it to them. Screw the brownie point. That’s for losers.

Out of the five players listed above, only Chris Kreider had a good game. He ran into some rotten luck by hitting two goalposts on perfect high shots that had Hart beaten. He also was denied by Hart on some crazy Harlem Globetrotters passing from first star Artemi Panarin and the exasperating Mika Zibanejad. Had Kreider finished there or on one of the other scoring chances, we’re not talking about a loss. He gives it his all. I got nothing to say about Zibanejad. Regarding K’Andre Miller, he had a very bad game after the very good one on Saturday. Jacob Trouba just happens to be his defense partner. He wasn’t great either.

Everyone knew the team had a built-in excuse if they didn’t win. No Adam Fox and no Pavel Buchnevich. But by now, Kaapo Kakko should be able to score regularly. That he isn’t is becoming increasingly worrisome. He wasn’t even a factor with coach David Quinn removing him from the first line in favor of top pick Alexis Lafreniere, who also went without a shot despite creating a couple of good opportunities. At least you noticed him. Kakko stunk. This was a significant step back for the all but invisible second pick. Why can’t he figure it out? It’s to the point where I want Vitaly Kravtsov to play ahead of him. He has two weeks to change that opinion.

Would anyone take Kakko over Kirby Dach now? Anyone. He’s a center and once he returns to the Blackhawks, you know he won’t disappear. He uses his size and speed. I wish Kakko did. He needs to show something these last 29 games. I’m tired of him not scoring or getting enough shots on net. For all the improvements with the skating and strength, he has to start justifying why he went number two in 2019. I bet Kravtsov fares better. He’s a year older and played in a better pro league.

There’s no doubt they missed the smooth skating Fox, who’s in COVID protocol with Buchnevich and Phil Di Giuseppe. For how long nobody knows. Let’s hope those are the only cases. Fox was sorely missed on the power play and penalty kill which nearly gave up three Flyers power play goals. Special teams got burned literally. The Rangers went 0-for-3 on the power play while the Flyers were 2-for-5 despite not having a great man-advantage. Burn the statistics. It meant nothing. The same for whatever cheesy stat MSG Network put up to jinx them. They didn’t do a good job.

At the start, the Rangers looked lethargic. It was all Flyers early on. They took advantage of a defensive breakdown to go up 1-0. On a mistimed Miller step up on Justin Braun in the neutral zone, Braun was able to chip the puck to Joel Farabee to create a two-on-one. With no Rangers forward getting back, that left only Trouba in no man’s land. Farabee made a perfect chip pass over to James van Riemsdyk, who buried the chance for his 13th at 3:47. It was way too easy.

It didn’t take long for the Flyers to increase the lead to two. Only 78 seconds later, Sean Couturier beat Zibanejad so easily back to Ivan Provorov that he had enough time to skate and pick his spot with a seeing eye wrist shot going underneath Kinkaid’s arm far side at 5:05. It was definitely one he’d want back. Even if it was a good shot from Provorov, who notched his fourth from Couturier.

There really was nothing happening in the first period for the Blueshirts, who looked out of sorts. They barely tested a struggling Hart, who’s had a nightmarish season. He’s been alternating starts with veteran Brian Elliott. We’ll see if Alain Vigneault comes back with Hart again with his starter finally getting a win. Vigneault’s team is a mess. They’re very healthy now. But play so loose that it reminds me of the end of his run on Broadway. They can dominate for stretches with their offense. Then look like they’ve never played together like the awful second period where they were dominated.

Whatever they weren’t in the first 20 minutes, the Rangers were the polar opposite in the second. Picking up the pace and physical play with birthday boy Brendan Lemieux mixing it up on an early shift along with Brett Howden, they were way more engaged. Suddenly, it was the home team forechecking vigorously and controlling the play.

The game was played almost exclusively at five-on-five. Advantage Blueshirts. They began to dictate the terms. Julien Gauthier got a good chance on Hart, who stopped him on a power move. Gauthier was back in the lineup after sitting out the last two games. He is an intriguing player due to his combination of size and speed. He had a good offensive game, but took two ill advised hi-sticking penalties that really hurt. I like how he plays. But he better learn to control his stick.

Artemi Panarin was terrific in a three-goal second period. Playing for the second time and first on home ice since returning, he really played well. The Bread Man got on the score sheet when he finished off a pretty cross-ice feed from rookie defenseman Tarmo Reunanen at 8:12. The play started in transition with Ryan Strome getting the puck to Reunanen, who recorded his first point in his NHL debut. He didn’t even get nine minutes of ice-time due to all the penalties. But he did nothing wrong while paired with veteran Brendan Smith, who had himself a game.

A few shifts later, Smith caught the Flyers napping. Making a great stretch pass for Panarin, he took off and made a sweet dish across for a Colin Blackwell one-timer that was in the back of the net so fast, I don’t think Hart had time to react. Wow. Was it a great play. Panarin on such plays is automatic. He made such a bullet pass that it was in the perfect spot for Blackwell, who got his sixth at 10:52 to tie the score. He makes things happen. Why Quinn ever sat him I’ll never understand. He’s making a strong case to stay. Imagine Blackwell in a fourth line role. He’s a good secondary player. A great find by GM Jeff Gorton.

While the Flyers seemed to be suffering from whatever bug the Rangers had in the opening period, it was New York that continued to roll. The turnaround continued thanks to Gauthier. After having been robbed by Hart earlier, he wouldn’t be denied this time. With Panarin still on, he made a good pass for Filip Chytil, who I felt was one of the best Rangers. He created offense all game, even making some stellar defensive plays. Chytil passed the puck to Gauthier at the Flyers blue line. He flat out dusted Shayne Gostisbehere, turning on the afterburners to break in on Hart and beat Hart with a nifty backhand for his second goal at 15:16.

As great a scoring play and goal as it was for Gauthier, he then accidentally got a piece of Travis Konecny while trying to get the puck. That proved costly. Only nine seconds into the five-on-four, Claude Giroux fed Farabee for a quick one-timer that went high short side on Kinkaid to tie it up at three with 1:24 left. It was a great shot. Obviously, you don’t want to give up the short side. Something we’re seeing goalies do with more regularity. Shooters are picking that spot. If you watch NHL Network, then you know it’s become the new five-hole. It was Farabee’s 12th from Giroux and Voracek.

Then things got interesting. With under 30 seconds remaining, Smith absolutely leveled Giroux with a clean shoulder hit that knocked down the Flyers leader. Predictably, he was met with animosity from Nolan Patrick, who basically instigated stuff. I understand why he went after Smith. But if we’re being honest here, this is exactly what I hate about today’s game. Why should a player face fake tough guys following such a good hit. It was a good check right to Giroux’s shoulder. He got up and didn’t seem upset.

What was unacceptable was Voracek being the third man in and double teaming Smith. That was ridiculous. I know that he stepped in for Patrick due to his injury history. He missed an entire year due to migraines. But Patrick is a North American player and wanted to stand up for his fallen teammate. Even if I feel it’s totally unnecessary for every clean hit to have this overreaction, this is what you get now. It is what it is. I knew they wouldn’t give the Rangers a five-on-three. That just wasn’t happening in a tie game. So, they gave Smith two minutes for roughing and Patrick two as well with Voracek receiving an extra two to hand our side a five-on-four.

If they’re not gonna call the instigator, at least have the common sense to assess a misconduct to the third man in. That seems fair. It makes that player, who in this case was one of the Flyers’ best in Voracek accountable. A lousy job by Wes McCauley and Dan O’Rourke. They also missed a clear delay of game after conferring with linesmen Tony Sericolo and Tyson Baker. That should’ve been a Rangers power play with the puck going over the glass and clearly hitting the protective netting. That wasn’t the last issue either.

Predictably, the Rangers couldn’t score on the power play with 1:44 carrying over into the third period. A good chance came on a good Trouba shot pass for an open Zibanejad in front. But his redirect didn’t even hit Hart. That’s typical of the kind of awful season he’s having. Screw the one goal he got at five-on-five. He’s still stuck on three goals. Insanity. Kevin Rooney is outscoring our number one center. How is that possible?

There also was the great opportunity where Panarin had the puck in front and passed for Zibanejad, who in turn passed to Kreider for what looked like an easy one. Only somehow Hart got across to make a great pad save to stone Kreider. It was your classic Rangers three-on-one with not one of the three guys you’d want able to finish. It was absurd.

A little after the power play, the fourth line created a goal out of hard work. With Brett Howden colliding with a Flyer in the corner, he was able to keep the play alive by moving the puck down low to Lemieux. Lemieux centered for a wide open Rooney, who buried the chance by going high glove on Hart for his fifth at 2:56. It was refreshing to see the checking line come through to put them ahead. They earned it.

Unfortunately, another mindless Gauthier stick foul allowed the Flyers to tie it up once again. On just a careless play that somehow McCauley and O’Rourke didn’t see along with the two blind linesmen, Gauthier wildly swung his stick and caught Giroux from behind to send him down to the ice. Incredulous following the obvious high stick that bloodied him, he looked at the officials in shock. That they had to review whether it was a double minor was ridiculous. It was embarrassing. It had to be called. I can’t believe they didn’t see it. It was like Lafreniere getting cut by a Brad Marchand high stick and the Rangers got only a two-minute power play.

Of course, the 19th ranked Flyers power play took advantage. Forty seconds in on the first half, Voracek took a Provorov pass and patiently waited for a sneaky Giroux to go around the net into position before sending a pass through the blue paint right to Giroux for an easy tip in past Kinkaid at 5:33. I don’t buy Joe Micheletti blaming Kinkaid for that goal. It was well executed. He didn’t see it and neither did Trouba, who was not even close to Giroux, who had his sixth on the power play from Voracek and Provorov to make it 4-4 with 14:27 remaining in regulation.

Sometimes, you have to put it on the penalty killers. They’d been unbelievable for a long time. That included Fox and Buchnevich. The bottom line is they failed to get it done. Both Trouba and Miller were on for both Philadelphia power play goals. They also were victimized on the first goal from Van Riemsdyk early. It wasn’t a good game for either. They needed a better game from that pair minus Fox, who normally teams with Ryan Lindgren. Instead, he paired mostly with Libor Hajek.

As much as some of our fans were critical of Kinkaid for allowing five goals including Voracek’s clean breakaway overtime winner, they don’t even get a point without him. He made three gigantic saves during regulation that gave them a chance. That included two breakaways by denying Voracek and Scott Laughton. It also included a point blank opportunity off a horrible giveaway in front.

He wound up with 25 saves on 30 shots including 10 of 11 coming in a not so good third. He isn’t the number one goalie nor was he expected to be the backup. Alex Georgiev hasn’t made those critical stops. Especially on breakaways. Maybe our fans should just can it. They’re down to the third string due to Georgiev playing poorly. Igor Shestyorkin can’t come back soon enough.

To be blunt, neither goalie had much help. There was no defense played. It was ugly hockey played at 33rd and 8th.

Kevin Hayes thought he had the potential game-winner late in regulation. With Strome off for a mindless hooking minor with less than five minutes left, Hayes was able to beat Kinkaid on a good Gostisbehere pass from the right circle far side. However, when they entered the zone, it was clear as day the Flyers were offside. I called it right away. It’s hard to believe how poor the officiating was. They screwed up so much. What if there weren’t video reviews and challenges to cover up their mistakes? Thankfully, Quinn challenged and the scoring play was reversed. He’s three-for-three on challenges.

The wild and wacky game needed overtime. Of course, it did. In it, the Rangers played keep away. First, it was Zibanejad, Panarin and Trouba. Then Strome, Kreider and Miller. But for all the puck possession they had, they simply didn’t do enough with it. Even against tired Flyers, not one quality shot. They only registered a measly shot on Hart from the perimeter. It was pathetic.

I really am beginning to loathe three-on-three. All it is is keep away and resets. They made a mistake getting rid of four-on-four. It works better. I don’t like the three-on-three because it’s not hockey. It’s become too deliberate. It’s astonishing that the Rangers never were able to generate one great chance. They had the puck for over three minutes and accomplished zilch.

Kinkaid made a bad outlet that Panarin couldn’t handle at his own blue line. He didn’t make a great attempt to save it. With Voracek close-by, he easily took the puck away and had all the time in the world before going to a beautiful forehand deke for an easy put away to give the Flyers the victory at 3:47. An unassisted tally by probably the best Flyer on the night.

It’s easy to pin it on Kinkaid, who didn’t need to rush the pass. Panarin was out of gas. That didn’t help either. Voracek had been on for a while. But it’s much easier for an attacker to go on offense than play defense in an awkward position. The mistake wound up costing the Rangers a valuable extra point.

As for what we saw, it was an imperfect game played by two flawed teams. Make any excuse you want. The Rangers should’ve still been ready to play. Instead, you have ridiculous reporters who cover this team making every excuse in the book.

They didn’t know if they were playing. No morning skate. Who’s playing?’

Hogwash!

Honestly, don’t even watch the tape. It was not a good game for anyone. Awful hockey. The rematch is Wednesday night on NBCSN at 7:30 PM. Puck drop around 7:38.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Ivan Provorov, Flyers (goal plus apple, +2 in 26:10)

2nd 🌟 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (overtime winner at 3:47, 2 🍎, -1 in 18:50)

1st 🌟 Artemi Panarin, NYR (6th goal plus 2 🍎, +2 in 21:20)

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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