Deja Vu All Over Again! Zibanejad records another natural hat trick in another destruction of Flyers, Fox and Strome continue dominance in Shestyorkin return


When you beat the same opponent twice in virtually identical fashion, what more is there to say? It was Deja Vu all over again. The Rangers thoroughly turned the Flyers into pumpkins for a second straight meeting. This time, it came in enemy territory. A week after destroying the Flyers 9-0 highlighted by a Mika Zibanejad natural hat trick and six points, they repeated it in an 8-3 destruction in Philadelphia.

Once again, Zibanejad was the biggest star. His second natural hat trick in nine days against the same defensively inept Flyers was the story. In two games (both wins by a combined 17-3), the top center has now posted a dozen points (6-6-12) in blowouts that were never close. Even if Philadelphia decided to start trying once they fell behind by a touchdown on Thursday night, it was way too late.

Not with Igor Shestyorkin showing no rust in his first start since March 4. In a bizarre game that saw the Flyers double up the Rangers in shots 44-22, it didn’t matter due to the steady play of the 25-year old Russian netminder. Even though it turned into a rout, Kevin Hayes tested him early by attempting to go five-hole on a wrist shot. But Shestyorkin closed the door to get a whistle at the first stoppage. He made a few more good saves with none better than his point blank denial on Claude Giroux with the score still 3-0. That proved to be the biggest save on a night he turned aside 41 of 44 shots.

What a weird game it was. Not because the Blueshirts thumped the Flyers. Just the way it happened. If you didn’t watch, you wouldn’t understand. Truthfully, the Flyers played the Rangers even in the first seven minutes. But once Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin combined to easily set up an unchecked Ryan Strome for his 11th goal at 8:01 of the first period, the Flyers came unglued. On the goal, Fox made a diagonal pass to Panarin, who waited for Strome to sneak into the picture. Jakub Voracek watched instead of taking him as the Bread Man threaded a perfect backdoor feed for a Strome tap in.

When you face a fragile team like the Flyers, who are giving up goals at an alarming rate, you have to put the pedal to the metal. The Rangers did. Shortly following Strome’s goal, it was Zibanejad and Chris Kreider combining to set up Pavel Buchnevich for his 12th for a 2-0 lead only 52 seconds later. This was another complete Flyers breakdown. With one defenseman trapped, it was a two-on-one for Kreider and Buchnevich. With only Ivan Provorov back, Kreider dished across for a quick Buchnevich one-timer that was in so fast that neither Carter Hart or Sam Rosen saw it.

In regards to Rosen, it’s not good to continue hearing him make mistakes. He never picked it up. All you saw was Buchnevich’s reaction and the red light go on. Joe Micheletti told him it was in. For as hard as it is to listen to him because of how much he talks, Micheletti at least knew it was a goal. I wish I could say the same for the way he and Rosen talked over a scrap between Brendan Smith and a visibly frustrated Nicolas Aube-Kubel on the following shift. They didn’t even mention that each received matching five-minute fighting majors. It was sad.

This broadcast has never been worse. I wish Rosen didn’t have Micheletti as a partner. I also feel bad knowing he’s lost so much off his fastball. He still has his moments. But some are hard. No matter what, Sam Rosen will always be forever remembered by every Rangers fan. He’s been a great broadcaster and voice of the team for over three decades. If he ever decided it was time, I’d be happy for him and his family. Kenny Albert has been waiting patiently while doing a good job on the radio. He’s certainly getting plenty of work on NBCSN. Deservedly so.

When it’s going bad, nothing goes right. With Flyers coach Alain Vigneault staring at the scoreboard every time the Rangers scored, it looked like a repeat from the last two years when he was behind our bench. He never seems to have any answers. Asked recently what’s gone wrong in his second year with Philly, he said if he had the answers, he’d have figured out why. Instead, it’s the same old thing Vigneault did here. He doesn’t know. He never does. For as successful an NHL coach as he’s been with Stanley Cup trips in Vancouver and New York City, he sounds clueless. You can bet his old failed assistants Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo aren’t helping. The Flyers are a mess.

Take nothing away from the Rangers. They went in and did what they had to do. Not only were they opportunistic on their shots that beat both Flyers goalies for eight on 22 shots. But they also went three-for-five on the power play. The man-advantage is where Zibanejad did all of his damage. After Kaapo Kakko drew a tripping call on Justin Braun, the Rangers went to work. It wasn’t until Fox waited for teammates in transition to get onside and set it up. The abysmal 25th ranked Flyers penalty kill let them work the puck quickly. A Strome pass for a Fox one-timer was redirected past Hart for number one for Zibanejad at 13:36. It was a good low shot that Zibanejad must’ve just gotten a piece of. Fox picked up his third assist of the period while Zibanejad earned his third point. Strome had two.

As much as this was headed the same way as the St. Patrick’s Day Philadelphia Massacre, Shestyorkin still had to come up with saves. He really looked sharp following the three week layoff. It was impressive how well he moved. It would be easy to overlook his performance because ultimately, the Rangers won the game by five goals. However, at one point, the Flyers finally started to wake up when the game looked over. They peppered our goalie the last two periods with 36 shots. He was excellent. Had they gotten it to 6-3 before the end of the second, it could’ve gotten interesting. I never panicked because I knew how susceptible the Flyers were.

They continued to mystify. Towards the conclusion of the first, a heated James van Riemsdyk nailed Ryan Lindgren from behind to earn two for cross-checking with 48 seconds left. The Blueshirts set up one good shot that Hart stopped before time expired. They still had 1:12 remaining on the five-on-four. Somewhat predictably, the Rangers got the Flyers running around. With Hart scrambling following a close call, it was Fox who found an isolated Zibanejad for a wicked one-timer inside the near goalpost for his second of the night at 54 seconds of the second period. Strome added another assist.

Things got even nuttier when the recently recalled Sam Morin roughed up Julien Gauthier, who was allowed to drive around the matador Flyers defense and force Hart into a save. That handed the Blueshirts another power play. This didn’t take too long. This time, the identical combo of Fox and Strome were able to find Zibanejad in the slot for an accurate one-timer past Hart to complete his second natural hat trick in two games versus the Flyers. Sure. They were over a week apart. But the mere fact he wound up with identical 3-3-6 games against them is no coincidence. That is almost half his 26 points. He’s now up to 10 goals and 16 assists. It’s insane what he’s done to the Flyers.

Of course, Vigneault continued staring at the scoreboard as if the replay was going to change. He never used a timeout. He didn’t pull Hart yet. The same Hart who was in for four Devils goals in which they did whatever they wanted before the Flyers made things interesting the other night. I don’t know what the thinking is in Philadelphia. Or if there is any at all. But GM Chuck Fletcher is the same guy who screwed up the Wild, who have since recovered under Bill Guerin to become a playoff contender. He didn’t have a good off-season.

It doesn’t explain how little the Flyers compete under Vigneault. We’ve seen this story before. His transition system exposes the defense and theirs isn’t good. It’s very plodding and easy to play against. Right now, I think playing them is easier than the Sabres, who continue to lose. The Rangers have had an easier time with the Flyers, who they’ll face on Saturday afternoon. If there isn’t a response, I think Vigneault is gone. They really need to replace Fletcher too.

With Philly punch drunk, even a weird K’Andre Miller shot went in at 2:42. That one came 36 seconds after Zibanejad’s third of the game. On the bizarre play that made it 6-0 after only 22 minutes and 42 seconds, Brendan Lemieux picked up a helper and of course Zibanejad did, upping his total to five on the night. This was way too easy. Almost too much so. For all intents and purposes, it was already Game Over. I don’t mean Triple H either.

By that point, Brian Elliott had replaced Hart (5 GA on 11 shots). He was in for Miller’s third. Rudely welcomed by a team that has the Flyers’ number. No wonder the Rangers are back in the divisional playoff race. They got a little help from the enemy Islanders, who recovered from a two-goal deficit to win 4-3 in overtime over the Bruins, who have now lost all five games to the Isles. Boston is still a few points up for fourth place.

Despite trailing by a touchdown, Philadelphia mounted a rally. Well, they at least made an attempt at one. Over a minute following the Miller goal, Hayes found Giroux in front for a goal at 3:46. It was his eighth from Hayes and Joel Farabee. Predictably, the Rangers relaxed with the big lead. It’s only human to. They started turning over pucks to cause Flyers chances. Shestyorkin was there to cover up the mistakes.

However, a needless Lemieux hooking minor resulted in a Hayes power play goal that suddenly made it 6-2 with 6:26 left in the period. For the rest of that second, the Flyers took it to the Rangers. They seemed to invite their wounded opponent to take their best shot. As if it were Rocky versus Clubber Lang in the rematch. All they needed was some Rocky music and shouting from Apollo Creed. They had opportunities with Smith (roughing) and Jacob Trouba (holding) taking penalties. Despite outshooting the Rangers 18-7, the Flyers still trailed by four after 40 minutes.

While some of our schizo fans were concerned, I was relaxed. I knew all it would take was a goal to calm everyone down. This wasn’t the Canadiens they were playing up in the House of Horrors like that Saturday night up north when they blew a five-goal lead to lose in overtime. As if they needed a reminder of how bad the Flyers are, Buchnevich scored a shorthanded goal just 33 seconds into the third to make it 7-2 good guys. Again, Fox picked up an assist (5) and Zibanejad added point number six.

Of course, the Flyers scored on the same power play with Sean Couturier getting his ninth from Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere. That made it 7-3 with 18:32 to go. But that was as close as they came. Instead, things got interesting.

During a scrum in front of Shestyorkin, Strome had enough of the pesky Aube-Kubel. He was ready to go. They each received two for roughing. Even as they piled up the shots, Igor was equal to the Flyers’ challenge. Nice of them to show up once they were down half a dozen. If that doesn’t tell you something’s wrong, I don’t know what to say. They look to have quit on Vigneault. It’s unbelievable. This is Year Two. He’s signed for three more years. If they lose again badly to the Rangers, is that it? We’ll see. If you’re our players, expect a better game. They need to be ready and roll with Shestyorkin.

Of course, the nastiness wasn’t over. Following a smart play from the very quiet Alexis Lafreniere in which he was able to set up a much needed Filip Chytil goal from behind the net to make it 8-3, here came a furious Morin going right after Lemieux. He just drives people crazy due to his antics. Some of which I don’t like. He takes liberties and is borderline dirty and probably psychotic. But he can be effective. On a soft team, you still need that. I don’t think he’ll be here by the summer. Think Seattle.

During this crazy sequence that saw Morin lose it during a one-sided fight where he pummeled Lemieux to the ice, the crazy sideshow pulled Lemieux’s hair and went too far. I thought Lemieux started with him. Maybe not. But this was absurd. It should result in NHL Player Safety having a hearing with Morin. I’ll say no more. While this went on, Van Riemsdyk was livid and tried to start something with Kevin Rooney. Nothing materialized. Rooney was sent to the locker room while Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl earned early showers.

Once the madness was over, the teams played the rest out. The Rangers running the clock down while on a power play where Smith got a shift. They then celebrated another lopsided victory with winning goalie Shestyorkin, who proved he’s back. They’ll need him for any kind of chance.

I’m not going to bother with the playoff race. All I know is the Rangers have tied the Flyers in points with 34. They passed them for fifth by virtue of two more regulation wins (13). A sweep on Saturday would keep the momentum going. With Fox, Strome, Buchnevich, Zibanejad, Kreider and Panarin all rolling, things are pointing upward. We’ll see what happens this weekend.

Don’t forget the NHL Trade Deadline is April 12. So, there’s still some time to figure out if they should be buyers or sellers. I think they have to sell due to the roster and cap situation. They have to stop screwing around with Vitaly Kravtsov. He’s practicing and they’re keeping the kid gloves on. He’s had a good professional season in the KHL. They need to stop the bullshit crap and play him. See what they have. Or are they going to wait for Oliver Wahlstrom to play himself into the Calder conversation with the Islanders? If you don’t think that matters, then you haven’t been paying attention.

While it’s nice to see this team coming together and winning under Kris Knoblauch, who must think he’s living a dream, they must remember to develop the kids. We need to see Kravtsov in the top nine and if he’s good enough, on the power play. I want more from Chytil, who hasn’t looked right since returning. At least he got the monkey off the back. Ditto for Lafreniere and Kakko. That’s what can make this team a legit contender in the future.

I’m glad to see Shestyorkin back and looking good. Now I say play him and see if he can handle the workload. As for who backs up, I don’t care. At the moment, Keith Kinkaid has outplayed Alex Georgiev. So, he should be the backup by that logic.

One last thing. The Rangers got Jacques Martin and Greg Brown back from COVID Protocol. Martin was back behind the bench with Knoblauch and Chris Drury. Brown was upstairs. They’re still waiting to clear coach David Quinn and assistant David Oliver. Isn’t it funny how they’ve erupted for all these goals including on the power play minus Quinn and Oliver? It sure makes you wonder.

What I like most is Knoblauch doesn’t mess too much with the lines. He kept Kakko with Strome and Panarin while sliding Colin Blackwell down to the fourth line. Gauthier stayed on the Kid Line. They seem to be executing better and just playing. They also seem to be having fun. There are a lot more smiles. It helps that Zibanejad woke up. Buchnevich has earned his next contract. We’re talking in the neighborhood of $5.5 million on average. The question is what will the organization decide.

For now, we may as well enjoy the rest of the hockey. There’s 24 games left on the schedule. Let’s see what happens. Happy Birthday Dad! It was his birthday on Wednesday. He sure doesn’t like AV. But he also loved seeing our team humiliate the Flyers again. If only Toronto and Montreal would’ve lost. He can’t stand either. That’s how you know he’s an old school hockey fan. Original Six!

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Ryan Strome, NYR (11th of season plus 3 🍎 in 17:09)

2nd 🌟 Adam Fox, NYR (5 🍎 in 21:55)

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (second natural hat trick and six points vs Flyers in over a week, 12 of his 26 points in two games)

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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