Third period comeback gets Rangers a point in disappointing shootout loss to woeful Flyers, Jones outplays Shesterkin, defensive issues a concern


No matter what way you slice it, this wasn’t good enough. Not when you’re coming off a lifeless performance in a shutout loss to the Islanders. Not after the coach called out his players and even made it a point in practice.

Simply put, there’s no way the Rangers should’ve lost to the woeful Flyers in shootout fashion by a count of 4-3 at MSG. It doesn’t matter that they mounted a third period rally to get a point. It wasn’t enough against a last place rival who were tired from playing in a back-to-back.

Even though they got all three goals in a stronger third that was highlighted by consecutive goals a dozen seconds apart from Mika Zibanejad and Andrew Copp, they still didn’t win. Instead, Martin Jones turned back the clock with 43 saves and foiled Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Filip Chytil in the shootout to earn the game’s First Star.

Not exactly the result they were looking for. Of course, Gerard Gallant will take the point and move on. He noted the positives from a game his team came out flat in to quickly fall behind 2-0.

Even Igor Shesterkin let in a beach ball early to Cam York that deflated the team. He hasn’t been automatic lately. His slump has coincided with the team playing inconsistently. Especially defensively. There have been too many lazy turnovers leading to odd-man rushes and blown coverages. That needs to get fixed.

It didn’t help matters that Owen Tippett completely undressed K’Andre Miller by going around him like a statue before scoring his first as a Flyer to make it a two-goal deficit. It wasn’t a good night for Miller or partner Jacob Trouba. The normally reliable pair got caught out of position by a on rushing Tippett another time only for Shesterkin to bail them out.

Even in a first period where the shots favored the Rangers by 13-8, they were too sloppy. There were defensive lapses that led to more Flyers’ opportunities. Fortunately, Shesterkin settled down to make some key stops by halting breakaways. Tippett had at least three during the game.

Complicating matters was Jones. Once a number one goalie with the Sharks, the veteran backup turned in a great performance. He made many big saves on his way to stopping 43 of 46. The 46 shots were a season high for the Rangers, who got better during the contest.

The astonishing aspect is aside from outshooting the Flyers 46-26, the Rangers out-attempted them 86-37. It’s not like they played badly. However, Jones made several great stops and also had the goalpost helping him out. The Rangers hit the post at least five times including three in the first period.

Following the 3-0 debacle to the Islanders, Gallant made a few changes to the lineup. As expected, veteran defenseman Justin Braun replaced Braden Schneider on the third pair with everyone’s whipping boy Patrik Nemeth.

According to the experts, if Nemeth were scratched, the Rangers would run the table and win the Cup. Do they even watch him play? He isn’t that bad. Last game wasn’t the best for him or Schneider. But everyone stunk.

This warped logic also applies to Ryan Strome, who’s been missed on the power play. He also is a much better offensive player than Jonny Brodzinski, who I like due to the straight line game he plays. But he isn’t a top six forward. Last night, he played with Artemi Panarin and Andew Copp.

The most puzzling move was reinserting Julien Gauthier. Why? He adds nothing. This isn’t meant to be disrespectful. It takes a lot to make the NHL. He is a former first round pick selected by Carolina. The issue is despite his strong skating that creates good scoring chances, Gauthier often blows it. He isn’t exactly known for his checking. He can draw penalties. But does little else.

Even Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com was baffled by Turk’s decision. Coming out of the lineup were Greg McKegg and Dryden Hunt. The latter who always brings a lunch pail work ethic. If you’re going to sit someone without Strome, Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney, it shouldn’t be Hunt.

The lines were as follows:

Panarin-Copp-Brodzinski

Kreider-Zibanejad-Vatrano

Lafreniere-Chytil-Gauthier

Motte-Goodrow-Reaves

The D pairs were self-explanatory. Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox. K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba. Patrik Nemeth with Justin Braun. It was the top two pairs that struggled with defensive assignments and botched coverages.

Back in net was Igor Shesterkin. As I previously mentioned above, he hasn’t been sharp recently. He’s allowed a few questionable goals. That’s not to say he’s to blame for the sudden inconsistency. It’s the way the team is currently playing. But his goals-against-average is up to 2.14 while the save percentage is .933. Superb numbers that should still have him ahead of Jacob Markstrom and Freddie Andersen for the Vezina.

Realistically, the Blueshirts should’ve handled the last place Flyers. I was thinking they’d win 5-2. Instead, Jones started the game on fire. He made key stops with his team playing the second game of a back-to-back after getting thrashed by Toronto 6-3. The same game interim coach Mike Yeo made news by scratching Keith Yandle, ending his record consecutive games played streak at 989.

My opinion on Yandle is that he was so close to 1,000. Why not let him get it? I know he’s had a lousy season. Let’s face it. He’s not the same player the Rangers acquired back in 2015 from the Coyotes for a package that included Anthony Duclair. Unfortunately, he’s nearing the end of his career. The Flyers are atrocious. They want to go in a different direction by taking a look at what they have. So, Yandle’s incredible streak ends at 989. He handled it like a pro.

The irony is Yeo probably won’t be in Philadelphia for next season. He’s accomplished nothing since replacing Alain Vigneault behind the bench. The former Minnesota and St. Louis coach has made the postseason a few times, but never guided a team that far. The Blues fired him and Craig Berube took over and guided them to their first Cup.

If one were to take a look at how the Flyers play hockey, you’d come away very unimpressed. They can’t defend at all and leave the goalie out to dry. Let’s just say their surprisingly quick start allowed them to come away with the two points, which still required a skill competition. That’s how awful they were protecting a three-goal lead.

McKayla Maroney would be unimpressed with the Flyers. She’s a hockey fan who’s gone to Kings games. Gif via Geico commercial.

The problem for the Rangers is whatever malaise they had against MSG kryptonite Semyon Varlamov, it continued to afflict them for the first two periods on Sunday night. They couldn’t score. Jones was suddenly Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek. Ridiculous.

While they were continously turned away by Jones, the Flyers got on the board first. Following an icing, Copp lost a draw to journeyman Nate Thompson. The puck came back to Cam York, who took a weird shot that seemed to be in slow-motion. It somehow snuck past Shesterkin, who couldn’t believe it. Nobody could.

This was the definition of a soft goal. One of the worst I’ve seen Shesterkin give up. York got his third from Thompson, who picked up his first assist of the season… Mind numbing.

That shocking goal seemed to deflate the Rangers. They were in a malaise. Before a minute had elapsed after the goal, Kevin Hayes made a pass up for Tippett. Acquired from Florida in the Claude Giroux deal, he faked Miller out and fired a wrist shot past Shesterkin glove side for his first as a Flyer. Ugly.

Actually, the replay showed that initially, Tippett was thinking pass. But the puck came back to him. He then beat Miller and fired past Shesterkin. A bit fortuitous.

Just like that, the Flyers led 2-0 on consecutive goals from York and Tippett 50 seconds apart. A look at the bench showed a befuddled Gallant, who had to be seething. This isn’t how this team has been. They usually respond well to losses. Especially after being called out by the coach.

Despite holding a 13-8 edge in shots, they trailed by two after one period. It was around this time that I was struggling to get into my fantasy baseball draft. It was auction format. Eventually, I figured it out. With that serving as a distraction with the game on downstairs, I hardly paid attention to the second period.

It’s hard to bid on players and watch a game for a blog. That’s why I didn’t bother putting anything up last night. I decided to wait so I could gather my thoughts. Apologies to anyone who actually reads this post.

While drafting, I could tell that the Rangers came out and played a much better second. Just from the call by Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, they really dominated the action.

The trouble was Jones wasn’t cooperating. He stopped 19 more shots in a lopsided second where our side created much better scoring opportunities. He denied Panarin on a couple of big chances. Chris Kreider was also stopped on a deflection.

Maybe the best chance came from Filip Chytil. Looking rejuvenated since Alexis Lafreniere was added back to his line, Chytil had a great shift. The one time I actually looked up, he used his speed to break in on Jones. But his backhand hit the post. That close. He stuck with the play to set up a Miller point shot that Jones easily covered. I thought both Chytil and Lafreniere had good nights.

There wasn’t much puck luck. They also had the game’s first two power plays in the second part of the middle stanza. But weren’t able to break through. The man-advantage fizzled instead of sizzled. It hasn’t been as effective since Strome went down. He might not finish wide open chances. But he’s a good setup man.

In regards to him, Gallant hinted that he might return yesterday. But Strome didn’t. My guess is he’s getting closer. Maybe we see him back either tomorrow in Newark or for the Pens Thursday. As for Kakko and Rooney, it sounds like they’re getting closer.

In terms of what lines were going, both the Panarin and Chytil units were effective. It looks like Copp is getting used to playing with Panarin. He plays a more straight ahead North American style. That means less East/West. But he knows where to find the Bread Man, who looks for a driving Copp towards the net. The early success they’ve had bodes well.

The Miller-Trouba pair had a rough night. They got victimized once by Tippett, who nearly turned them into traffic cones on another breakaway. Good thing Shesterkin stopped him. He had to deal with Tippett a few times due to numerous breakdowns. Despite allowing one bad goal and one stoppable one, he kept the Rangers in it. Even though the final statistics read three goals allowed on 26 shots, Igor stayed focused.

Once the third hit, it was a question of how tired the Flyers were. They have no structure. Guys were breaking in and getting point blank shots on Jones, who continued to bail his teammates out. It was ridiculous.

But just 44 seconds into the third, a horrible miscue from Ryan Lindgren allowed Travis Sanheim to cut right in and feed Joel Farabee for a tap in that made it 3-0 Flyers. It was appalling. There was way too much gap left by the forward covering for Adam Fox. It looked like Barclay Goodrow. But actually was Copp, who was too late.

Trailing by three versus a lousy opponent, the Rangers never gave up. Instead, they picked themselves back up. On the next shift, Miller moved the puck for a Trouba shot that Panarin got enough of to tip it past Jones at 1:22. That cut it to 3-1.

But before they could mount a furious rally, Ryan Reaves took a needless minor for hi-sticking over a minute following Panarin’s 19th goal. Personally, I like what Reaves has added. He’s a high energy guy who’s a character and positive influence.

However, he shouldn’t be in the lineup once Strome, Kakko and Rooney return. Gallant has better options. Reaves has said he understands better at this point of his career. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Following a successful kill, they then sent Panarin to the box for one of those iffy hooks. I didn’t care for that call. Did he do it? By the book, yes. But was it blatant? No.

In a ridiculous league where they miss mich worse stick infractions and allow thuggery like what happened to Troy Terry the other night that’s encouraged by fools like Tyson Nash who think vigilante justice is good, it’s a joke. And Jay Beagle got nothing. I’m glad Trevor Zegras spoke out. God forbid they protect the skilled players over just absolute trash.

As for the Panarin penalty, it was our side that created a couple of dangerous shorthanded opportunities. Copp had a close call, but Jones denied him. Kreider and Zibanejad nearly connected on another rush. That’s how bad the Flyers are. They’re very fragile.

Once things returned to even strength, you knew the Rangers would come back. But as time ticked down, the Flyers were doing their best to hold on. They limited the shots and chances to the outside for the most part. But the predictable implosion was just ahead.

With under five minutes left, Frank Vatrano got a hard shot on Jones, who couldn’t control the rebound. That allowed Zibanejad to bury home his 27th at 15:28.

Back within one and the crowd suddenly alive, they got it tied in short order. It only took a dozen seconds. On a play started by Goodrow, he got the puck up for Panarin, who skated into open space before whipping a pass for Copp one-timer that tied the game with 4:20 left.

It was way too easy. But demonstrated how inept the Flyers are. It also highlighted why I wanted Copp. All he did was drive the middle and Panarin found him wide open for the game-tying goal. He’s been a home run so far. Aside from the production, go listen to what he said above about last night. Very honest. He made some good observations about how the Stanley Cup playoffs are.

A little after the Copp goal, the Blueshirts were given an opportunity to win it in regulation. Put on their third power play, they didn’t put the Flyers away. It was disappointing. That’s all I’ll say.

With time winding down in regulation, a sloppy Philadelphia turnover in their zone gave Brodzinski a chance to be the hero. It didn’t go. So, they went to overtime.

It certainly was entertaining. Both sides had chances to end it. Maybe the most frustrating was when Panarin was open and instead of shooting, fiddled around with the puck and got nothing. I don’t understand. He had a good game. But why not take the shot?

Kreider got nabbed for hi-sticking with 34 seconds left in OT. The Flyers got one good shot from Farabee on Shesterkin that he stopped. But were unable to connect. A huge block in front from Trouba allowed the Rangers to clear. That was it.

In the shootout, the trio of Zibanejad, Panarin and Chytil couldn’t beat Jones, who was in a zone the entire night. After stopping both Cam Atkinson and Tippett in the first two rounds, Shesterkin was beaten by Hayes with a wrist shot.

That left it up to Chytil. He made one too many fakes before Jones got over to deny his forehand bid.

A frustrating night. The point at least put them two up on the Pens with 12 to go. But Pittsburgh will play before Thursday as will the Rangers.

Next up are the Devils. They don’t have to be reminded what happened last time. The Devils might be without star Jack Hughes after he exited yesterday’s game with a leg injury on a Oliver Wahlstrom hit. It wasn’t dirty. But was one of those yikes moments. Let’s hope Hughes is okay.

If he doesn’t play, that doesn’t mean anything. By now, this team should have learned the lesson about these games. If you don’t bring your best, you can lose. Any given day. That’s how it works.

We’ll see if Gallant decides to stick with Shesterkin or save him for the Pens. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex Georgiev gets the call. If he does, the team must play better than they have lately.

Three Stars 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Owen Tippett Flyers goal (1st as Flyer), 3 SOG, 3 breakaways, 3 hits, +1 in 16:15

2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin NYR goal (19) plus assist (63), 7 SOG, 15 attempts, +1 in 23:19

1st 🌟 Martin Jones Flyers 43 saves on 46 shots, 3 for 3 in shootout

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