Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers was forgettable for the New York Rangers. They fell to their long-time rivals 5-1 just a day before the holiday break. Nevertheless, the Rangers will have to swallow this one and take a long, hard look at what needs to be addressed during their brief time off.
Rangers Not Capitalizing on Early Chances
The Rangers and Flyers generated chances in the first period but failed to capitalize on any of them. The Rangers, in particular, had quite a few opportunities during the back-end portion of the first period as they threw everything they could at Flyers goalie Carter Hart. The Philadelphia netminder wasn’t having any of it and shut the door on New York’s offense with eight solid saves in the period.
The Rangers’ inability to score proved to be the critical component as to why they lost. Scoring has been a major issue for the team, even when they were competing for a Stanley Cup just a couple of years ago. It continues to be an area of concern despite the addition of Artemi Panarin from the Columbus Blue Jackets in July.
Even though the Rangers struck first in the second period off a shorthanded goal by Jesper Fast, it wasn’t enough. The Flyers were the better team and made the Blueshirts pay for their missed opportunities, scoring four consecutive goals in the third period to seal the deal. This is one area where maybe a shake up in the line combinations needs to be addressed by head coach David Quinn.
Getting the veteran guys like Mika Zibanajad, Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome matched up with some of the youngsters may help them learn to improve on capitalizing on future scoring opportunities. Only time will tell if any line adjustments will benefit their offense or not.
Lundqvist Way Too Busy in Net
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was busy from the the start. The Flyers looked like the hungrier team and it really started to show in the third period of play. He faced 11 shots in that final period and allowed four of them to go in the net. We can’t blame him entirely for these mishaps considering the defense just looked completely flat as the Flyers steamrolled them with shots.
Let’s face it, Lundqvist has lost a step, despite everything he’s done for the organization. Gone are the days when the King could stand on his head to stop over 30 or 40 shots to steal a win for his team. He will turn 38 in early March and his level of play has been declining in recent seasons. The team needs to stop relying on him too heavily .
He kept the Flyers at bay for as long as he could before Travis Sanheim finally broke through with a last-second goal in the second period to tie the game at one. From that point on, he struggled to keep his team within striking distance to have a chance at winning the game.
Solid defense has to be the team’s game plan moving forward. While watching the game, I repeatedly would see Philadelphia enter the Rangers’ defensive zone way too easily without much resistance to speak of. This would allow the Flyers to set up shop and get pucks towards the net all night long. Aggressive forechecking and physical play on the puck needs to be instilled in this young defensive corps.
The Rangers have had this habit throughout Lundqvist’s career where they would go into a defensive shell and not put pressure on the opposing team’s offense. This usually would work in the early days of his career when he was in his prime and he had a more talented defensive corps playing in front of him. Guys like Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Kevin Klein, and Marc Staal would be able to block shots to prevent Lundqvist from standing on his head to make saves.
This young group that is currently on the roster isn’t as talented or experience yet to use that same style of play. They need to provide better support around both Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev in future games. It’s a learning curve and it needs to be addressed to avoid a third period collapse as they experienced on Monday evening.
Kevin Hayes Gets His Revenge
Former teammate Kevin Hayes also had a great performance which also had an impact in their 5-1 loss to Philadelphia. Hayes spent the first five seasons of his NHL career with the Rangers. He arrived in the Big Apple in 2014 with very high expectations. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to the hype.
New York tried to be patient with him for five years only to see him struggle. Eventually, the front office decided to move on from him to focus on their youth movement and rebuild. They sent him to Winnipeg at the trade deadline as the Jets were looking for an experienced rental player for their postseason aspirations. He was then shipped off to Philadelphia in the offseason for a new start. The way Hayes’ tenure ended on Broadway most likely gave him some extra motivation for this contest.
The Rangers should have been aware of how determined Hayes was going to be in his first night playing against them since he was dealt away last winter. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter as Hayes terrified their defense all night long particularly in the third period. A late second period goal was at all that was needed to set the stage for a critical third period. This was the momentum Philadelphia needed and Hayes took full advantage of that moving forward.
He busted through with his first goal of the evening 7:31 into the final period to give his squad a 2-1 lead. Anyone watching the game could see how pumped up Hayes was when he beat Lundqvist with a blast past his glove and into the top right-hand side of the net. There was no looking back from that point on as Hayes and the crew continued to pour it on.
Then about ten minutes later Hayes broke through for a second time to pot his 11th goal of the year to give the Flyers a 4-1 lead. After a nice pass by teammate James van Riemsdyk along the boards, Hayes took the puck to the net and made a nifty move around Lundqvist to slide the puck over the line for Philly’s fourth goal of the night.
A more solid game plan on preparing for Hayes who had a point to prove against his former team could very well have helped prevent that third period collapse. It’s little things like that which could go a long way in changing the outcome of a game. Let’s hope the Rangers take this into account when preparing for future matchups against Philadelphia and other teams that possess former Rangers on their rosters.
Quick Wrap Up
The Rangers lost complete control of Monday’s game against the Flyers. The Rangers will use the holiday break to regroup and correct some of these issues for their next game on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes at home in the world’s most famous arena. Learning to finish on chances, supporting their goaltenders, and being better prepared to play against former teammates is something they will need to focus on during their brief time off.