Heading into Friday’s rematch with the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers will hope for a better outcome than Thursday’s 3-2 loss on home ice. With all remaining playoff hope officially diminished, the Rangers will focus on building on their strengths for the remaining nine games of the regular season.
If anything, these disappointing losses have painted a vivid picture of what is needed to become a contender. Yet, despite the disappointment, last night’s game had some bright spots.
Positive Takeaways From Last Night’s Loss to Philadelphia
Former 2019 third-round draft pick, Zac Jones made his NHL debut last night. The 20-year-old defenseman was thrown into the Madison Square Garden spotlight, despite the fact that the rest of the defensive corps is around the same age.
Like the other young players who have stepped into the lineup this season, Jones adjusted as the game went on. With just under 10 minutes of ice time, he did not have much time to showcase his skill set, but there will be plenty of time for that. The focus of the franchise the past few seasons has been about bulking up for the future. Despite the playoff run, it looked like the team was geared up for, this season reminds us how far the team is from thoroughly competing.
It may be premature but comparisons to his teammate, Adam Fox, are already visible. Both are on the smaller side and offensively gifted — both Fox and Jones are regarded as quite the steal. Jones’ debut revives the organization’s excitement regarding his selection. During his college career, he only continued to improve, which is why his name stood out despite the depth the organization has defensively. He could become a special player for the Blueshirts, given he joined the team much sooner than anticipated.
Sharp Goaltending for New York
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin played a stellar game in the one-goal loss, but the rest of the team failed to play well in front of him. The Russian netminder was sincerely beat on only one goal, the last one, netted by Flyers veteran Jakub Voracek. The other two Philadelphia goals came from a weird bounce off of James van Riemsdyk’s face on the power play, and a tip-in in front, van Riemsdyk’s second power-play goal of the game. There is nothing Shesterkin could have done to stop those goals.
Joel Farabee was awarded a penalty shot and Shesterkin melted that scoring chance down. It was Shesterkin’s first career penalty shot and he denied one of the hotter Flyers.
Shesterkin’s performance this season should reassure anyone who had doubts about the 25-year-old taking on a starter’s workload. The second-year goalie faced 36 shots from a struggling but skilled club last night.
Adjustments for Tonight’s Rematch in New York
What stands out from last night’s game was the number of power-play opportunities handed to the Flyers, who were keen to capitalize on the advantage. Philadelphia was 2-for-5 with the man advantage thanks to van Riemsdyk’s two goals. The Rangers cannot repeat that trend on Friday.
To their credit, the Flyers have been strong in the third period all season and were again on Thursday. They also had a four-minute power play in the final frame. Historically this season, the Rangers ultimately drop the games with close scores. To make matters worse, the Blueshirts struggled to score on a team they previously blew out of the water with eight or more goals.
Rangers’ head coach David Quinn said after the game, “I think from night to night, there’s different reasons for why we lose these tight games. Whether it be too many penalties or maybe young guys being a little bit off or maybe older guys being a little bit off or maybe the d-core being a little off. I think it’s been a variety of reasons from night to night.”
Indeed, Thursday’s game offered a vicious combination of those themes. With Jacob Trouba’s absence from the lineup, the defense pairings were skewed and Jones was thrown into the mix. The older players have been hot and cold this season. Veteran forwards Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider were invisible last night until Zibanejad registered a point late in the last period. Zibanejad recorded an assist on the Artemi Panarin goal that came much too late with two minutes left.
The Rangers received three power-play chances but failed to capitalize. Their offense has almost disappeared. While veteran Brendan Smith and Panarin scored, the young players recorded the helpers. Assists were credited to K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, and Fox.
Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott robbed the Blueshirts a number of times last night but they will have to find a way past his wall. Perhaps the peak of the disappointment following the loss was the fact that the Rangers failed to exploit a struggling team. They were able to find the back of the net prior to Philadelphia’s fall in the standings, but they could not gather that continuity for last night’s game.
Though Quinn praises the team’s resiliency this season, he stated the Rangers were perhaps unable to bounce back from their previous week’s losses for the first time. Hopefully, we see a more cohesive Rangers squad tonight when the team meets the Flyers again at The Garden.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.