This had a familiar feel to it. It was 14 years to the day that something very similar happened at Madison Square Garden. The only difference is we were there for it. The Rangers version of the Boston Massacre occurred on March 17, 2007. On that Saint Patty’s Day, the ’06-07 Rangers won 7-0 over the Bruins with future captain Ryan Callahan scoring his first two goals and having one of three fights.
Last night’s version of the Philadelphia Massacre was even better. Or worse if you root for the other side. In as one-sided a game as there could be, the Rangers humiliated the Flyers on national TV by a 9-0 knockout victory at 33rd and 8th. To think that this was broadcast on NBC Sports Network by a national audience. It conjured up images of the last ever game Patrick Roy played for the Canadiens when the Red Wings destroyed them at Montreal on ESPN.
How much emphasis should there be on one game? The convincing win brought the Blueshirts back to NHL .500 at 12-12-4. With exactly 28 points at the halfway point of the abbreviated 56-game season, they are within three of the reeling Flyers for fifth in the East Division. But still trail fourth place Boston by six with the Bruins having a game at hand. Each team has 10 regulation wins as do the Flyers, who look to be headed in the wrong direction under familiar coach Alain Vigneault. The Capitals and Islanders sit comfortably at 42 points apiece in the top two spots while the Penguins have 37 in 29 games played.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, the Rangers need to have a big weekend against the Caps. If they can over 24 hours on Friday and Saturday night, only then can we take them seriously. While it’s true they won the first two meetings versus Washington, the Caps are playing better now that Alexander Ovechkin is heating up. He passed Phil Esposito for sixth on the NHL all-time list with his 718th goal in a victory over the Islanders. He also became the 35th ever NHL player to reach 1,300 points. The upcoming games in DC should be interesting.
The biggest story to come out of Wednesday’s game was the record setting performance from Mika Zibanejad. He tied an NHL record by putting up six points in a period. It took place in a lopsided second that saw the Rangers put up a touchdown and extra point on a dreadful Flyers, who went through the motions. This was every bit as eye opening as it seemed. In a word, shocking. In all my years following the sport which included some awful Ranger teams during the Dark Ages (’97-98 through ’03-04), I’ve never seen a team play worse hockey than last night.
Prior to his six-point eruption that included a natural hat trick on goals four, five and six in the unbelievable second period, Zibanejad had been Missing Mika. He entered with only three goals including one at five-on-five. By night’s end, he scored one shorthanded, one on the power play and one at even strength to turn the trick over a 10:10 dominant span. The six points rivaled his remarkable five-goal, six point game that beat the Capitals last year with Zibanejad Capping it off in epic fashion by scoring his record fifth in overtime on a breakaway. That was a great game won by the Rangers 6-5 before the pandemic stopped play later that week.
If you wanted an idea of what was to come, look no further than the first period. After missing the first part of it due to a run at the store where they didn’t give me a paper bag for the food I picked up until I asked (typical New York State bull shit), I got back in time to see the Rangers up 1-0. Adam Fox had skated past invisible Flyers to set up topflight finisher
Rod Gilbert Brendan Lemieux for an easy goal into an open side with Brian Elliott helpless. He’d get used to that feeling as would replacement Carter Hart. Neither Flyer goalie got any help at all. It was embarrassing.
A few minutes while watching the second period called by Kenny Albert, some more awful Philadelphia defense allowed Ryan Strome to come off the wall and easily pass across for a quick Artemi Panarin one-timer that went top shelf for a 2-0 lead at 14:47. It gave him goals in two straight and continued his good run. Since returning to the lineup, the Bread Man has six points (2-4-6) in three games. He is still as lethal as ever. But on a night he had a goal and helper, he was outshined by Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
Following a first period in which they scored twice on six shots with the Flyers actually having an 8-6 edge, the Rangers exploded for a ridiculous seven goals to deal their Philly rival their most lopsided defeat against our team. This was assault and battery. The hockey version consisted of a relentless Blueshirts attack turning the Flyers into ghosts. It’s a good thing for them it wasn’t a home game. Imagine Gritty. What can I say? I love Gritty. The Flyers have the best mascot going for them.
You could tell from the first shift what kind of period the second would be. After almost setting up a goal, Buchnevich was the beneficiary when he was left wide open for a perfect Zibanejad feed from behind the net for an easy finish at 1:38. On the play, Zibanejad took Phillipe Myers off the puck like he was a traffic cone and then set up Buchnevich for his ninth. Myers and partner Travis Sanheim had a night to forget with each on for six goals against, meaning they both were minus-six. I don’t know how that’s possible. But it was on March 17, 2021. Corned beef and cabbage with a pint of Guinness for everyone who cheered the Rangers. If you rooted for the Flyers, you might’ve spit out your food or gone for double shots of Bushmills.
Two minutes following that goal, the madness continued. On just another dominant shift by the top line, Zibanejad and Jacob Trouba combined to feed Buchnevich at the top. He had his shot pass for Chris Kreider bank off a Flyer skate past Elliott to make it 4-0 at 3:38.
Even a Flyers power play couldn’t swing the momentum. Instead, Alex Georgiev made the save of the game when he flat out robbed Nolan Patrick of a sure goal. Joel Farabee sold it well and made a great pass across for what looked like an easy finish for Patrick. Instead, I watched in shock as a sprawling Georgiev got across in time to make a great pad stop to deny the bid. It proved to be gigantic because the Rangers came back down and erased any doubt about the game.
On an easy transition with token resistance, Zibanejad over skated behind the net, but drew three Flyers. He wisely sent a back pass to a pinching Trouba for his first of the season. Yes. Even Trouba got into the act by hitting the back of the net on the sweet Zibanejad feed. Buchnevich started the scoring play to earn an assist, giving him three points. That was enough for Elliott, who mercifully allowed five goals on 13 shots. Hart replaced him. The fun wasn’t over.
With Ryan Lindgren in the box for slashing Farabee, the Flyers handed Zibanejad his first goal while on the penalty kill. On just a brutal turnover off a face-off win, Zibanejad stole the puck inside the Rangers blue line and scored an unassisted shorthanded goal on the first shot Hart saw eight seconds into the Flyers power play. Previously this year, he’s had all sorts of problems finishing on breakaways. This time, he didn’t miss with a nice forehand deke and tuck to make it 6-0 at 8:27. It was at this point where I wondered what I was watching.
The lack of effort from the Flyers was truly astonishing. It was as if they had quit on Vigneault. I wondered why he never used a timeout. But that’s how he coaches. I probably would’ve lifted Elliott at 4-0 down. Not that it would’ve mattered. But the lackadaisical defense was an eerie reminder of what happened to the Rangers under Vigneault in the last two seasons. That the Flyers are already looking so lost in only Year Two after a successful ’19-20 has to sound off the alarms in Philadelphia. This is the kind of game that gets a coach fired. They’re obviously not going to do it yet. But if they keep this dog and pony act up with three straight coming versus the Islanders, yikes.
The period still wasn’t over. On a power play, Zibanejad took a Panarin pass and got behind the Flyers penalty kill to score his second consecutive goal. He went upstairs on a passive Hart, who stayed two far back in his net to leave high glove open. That’s the sign of a fragile goalie who hasn’t found his game. He certainly was helpless and must’ve thought he was seeing Rangers everywhere like a Bugs Bunny episode.
Late in the period, there were more Zibanejad theatrics. This time, he was able to finish off a pass from Kreider to complete the hat trick at 18:37. Buchnevich drew the other assist giving him a career high four points (2-2-4). Yes. There were some hats tossed on the Garden ice with fans in the building. It paled in comparison to that memorable five-goal game where he outdueled Ovechkin. If ever a player needed this kind of game, it was Zibanejad. What it could do for his confidence might be the magical spark this team needs. As slim as their playoff hopes are, a hot Zibanejad with Panarin, Kreider and Buchnevich would be hard to stop. Especially with Strome proving last season wasn’t a fluke. He added two assists as well to give him 22 points.
Just imagine if they could somehow get anything out of Kaapo Kakko. It’s sad that he had no points and one shot in over 14 minutes. At least he was on for a goal. With less than a minute left, Alexis Lafreniere sent Libor Hajek in for a quick transition. He had Filip Chytil wide open for another easy finish past a shell shocked Hart at 19:39. It gave Chytil his fourth. He has five points (2-3-5) in nine games this month since returning. He continues to grow.
Aside from The In-Grate One, Lemieux doing Lemieux things at the conclusion of the dominant period, the Flyers were punchless. They showed no fight. No response. This might be the softest batch of Flyers I’ve ever seen. There is plenty of skill which Vigneault teams always have. But nobody fights. That philosophy was an unpopular one here. There’s no way you don’t need some grit and character in your lineup. The Flyers have been synonymous with it forever. Not anymore. Maybe the Flyers should be sponsored by Soft Batch cookies. Imagine Gritty showing off his cookies during a segment. It would be priceless.
The third period was so useless, it’s not worth recapping. Nothing happened. The Rangers wisely called off the dogs and didn’t try too hard to further humiliate the Flyers. Had they, it probably would’ve just set off frustration. They still have to see the Flyers four more times. Better to just play clean hockey and not run it up like that funny coach in The Mighty Ducks. At least Gordon Bombay got even in the end.
So, what else is left to say? Well, Georgiev came back and pitched a shutout. He did stop all 26 shots he faced and had to feel better about his game. I know it was a blowout. But he made some good saves with none better than the sparkler against Patrick. It was his sixth career shutout. Unless Igor Shestyorkin is ready, you stick with Georgiev for Part I of the Caps double dip.
Let’s see what happens. As far as not having David Quinn behind the bench with his staff due to COVID Protocol, they didn’t miss a beat. The bottom line here is the players played well and made life very easy on Kris Knoblauch, Gord Murphy and Chris Drury. It must’ve felt like coaching peewee. A 9-0 rout in an NHL game. That rarely happens.
So do six-point periods. Zibanejad matched Bryan Trottier, who also put up six in a period versus the Rangers in 1978. As critical as I’ve been with Zibanejad, he has now recorded two six-point games in a year. That is crazy. For Mika, it’s about consistency. While it’s true he was starting to look like his old self picking up assists, the goal scoring department had been severely lacking. If he’s truly back, it’ll continue at Washington. They’re not a defensive juggernaut either. There should be plenty of offense.
I would say more. But it’s late. I visited our friend who celebrated his birthday on Saint Pat’s. Pretty cool stuff. I know two people who have birthdays on Irish Day. For Blueshirt fans, it was green with envy. My one Guinness Stout tasted good while enjoying this ass kicking.
It really happened. They really won 9-0 over the Flyers. Forgive me while I pinch myself. Until later. It’s been fun.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Jacob Trouba, NYR (1st goal of season plus 🍎, +4 in 19:50)
2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (2 goals plus 2 🍎 for a career high four points, +5 in 17:09)
1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (natural hat trick and a NHL record-tying six points in a period, +5 in 18:23, 12 of 18 on draws)