Having lost all four previous meetings against the New York Rangers, there is no doubt that Saturday afternoon's home battle against the Broadway Blueshirts will have some lasting ramifications for the way the remainder of the Philadelphia Flyers' 2011-12 schedule plays out. And that's a bad thing for the Broad street bunch.
Ryan Callahan netted the second hat trick of his career, two of which came on the power play. His other hattie, coincidentally, came against Philadelphia last March, when he scored four in a game against the Flyers. Today the Rangers' discipline and lethal play while with the man advantage, combined with the home team's failure to protect the area around their own net led to a convincing 5-2 win for the visitors. It was the exact same score in which the Flyers skated off of Madison Square Garden ice to a chorus of chants of "You can't beat us!" from the Rangers' faithful last Sunday.
With a meeting with the red-hot Detroit Red Wings looming on Sunday afternoon -- Detroit has won 18 straight at Joe Louis Arena, and will be going for the NHL record tomorrow -- this has all the makings of a second consecutive lost weekend for the Flyers.
Man advantage tallies from Callahan (two) and Marian Gaborik were countered with even strength strikes from Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux, and despite allowing all three goals on the power play over the first two frames, Philadelphia was still able to keep it close, trailing just 3-2 heading into the third period.
But as was the case last weekend, New York locked down the third period. When a big effort was needed from the Flyers to get the tying goal, they were only able to muster six shots on goal in the final stanza. Artem Anisimov and Callahan added five-on-five tallies in the third to put it away.
"I think we play them strong for two periods every time and it seems like it is always 2-2, 3-2 or 3-3 going into the third, and then all of a sudden the wheels fall off," said Simmonds.
And he's correct. With the success they've enjoyed against the Orange-and-Black, it is quite possibly turning into a situation where the Rangers are getting into the heads of the Flyers' players.
Several disturbing trends for Philly would be stressed with a rather emphatic exclamation point in the contest;
- Philadelphia's defensive zone coverage. With just about every Rangers' goal being scored from between 5-10 feet away from the Flyers' net -- most of which were goalmouth passes in which Sergei Bobrovsky had no chance to make a save -- the 6' 6", 220-pound hole left in the absence of Chris Pronger is looking to be more the size of the Grand Canyon for the Orange-and-Black. The glaring deficiencies where opposition players have no recourse for venturing in and around the Philadelphia goal crease has never been so pronounced as in the games since the All-Star weekend. Ilya Bryzgalov has had a very similar lack of support, and it is becoming more and more evident that GM Paul Holmgren needs to make a deal for blueline help before the February 27 trade deadline. With Montreal Canadiens' GM Pierre Gauthier in attendance today, the Flyers could be involved in one of a few different Habs' defenders; Hal Gill, Chris Campoli, or possibly...P.K. Subban? Would prove to be a rather ironic twist to a season of change in the City of Brotherly Love.
- Philly's atrocious home penalty-killing unit was further exposed. Aready possessing one of the worst penalty killing percentages (78.6%) at home this season, Philadelphia allowed goals on three consecutive New York power plays to give New York a 3-2 lead after two periods.
- The home ice non-advantage that is the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers dropped to 13-9-5 in front of the home fans this year, including a 2-3-3 mark in their last eight. Opposing players are experiencing no ill affects from playing in South Philly as they had in seasons past, and this is the same problem the Flyers had down the stretch last year when they limped into the playoffs.
- The Flyers' poor play in afternoon matches continued. Now owners of a 4-8-1 mark in games that begin before 7 p.m. -- and many of which have come via the blowout variety -- the club has shown a terrible consistency at not being prepared to play early games. They have been shut out in two of those games and have allowed six goals in five of them, plus a sixth where a shootout win by the Boston Bruins made the final score 6-5. And they have allowed 16 in their last three matinees -- six versus New Jersey, and the pair of fives yielded in the two outings against the Rangers.
It was a crushing defeat for the Flyers, but there were a couple of small nuggets of good signs.
Simmonds continued his excellent play as of late, scoring his 18th goal of the season and playing an effective physical game. For a good portion of the times Philly generated extended offensive pressure, there was one common denominator. That was Simmonds creating general havoc around the blue paint where Henrik Lundqvist was guarding the Rangers' cage, and the 'Wayne Train' recorded the 'Gordie Howe Hat Trick' on the day.
"He is playing well for us lately," said Giroux of Simmonds after the game. "He is winning battles, going to the net and he is getting some goals for us. He is playing well for us."
The play of the Flyers' leading scorer has also picked up after experiencing a lull, as Giroux netted his fourth goal in the last six contests. It was actually Simmonds that sent Giroux away on a breakaway with a beauty of a cross-ice feed, and "G" put the puck under Lundqvist's outstretched left arm with his signature backhand-forehand move.
But the positives were few and far between for the home club.
Especially prominent is this was a game in which the Flyers were the ones needing to make a stand of their own, but it was the Rangers who did just that.
There is no mistaking the strong message that was sent from the opposition today in winning their fourth straight against Philly and seventh consecutive dating back to last season (0-6-1), and that is New York is not going to fade away in the standings this year as they have in the past. They now own a six-point lead over the Flyers in the standings, and have done so with a stingy defense. And we all know what wins championships, I will not repeat myself from earlier posts.
The Blueshirts have allowed an NHL-low total of 108 goals, or exactly 57 less than the Flyers' 165. It's obvious Philly needs a better effort in their own zone, and Giroux pointed that out,
"We have to play better defense, we all know that," he stated. "The best defense brings your offense. They are a team that does that and when they get on the rush they can make plays. Their defense attacks too. Hopefully guys get a little pissed off that we lose against those guys."
The Rangers' have shown themselves to be a serious contender to come out of the Eastern Conference to vie for the Stanley Cup this year, and they've almost been totally automatic when leading after two periods. Coming into the matinee, the Blueshirts hadn't lost when holding a lead at the second intermission in the previous 51 occurrences (49-0-2). That can now be made to read '50-0-2', and they are playing with a tremendous confidence with the knowledge that they can lock down a game with near-perfect precision.
While the Rangers' defenders have been excellent, they always have the great equalizer in Lundqvist whenever there is a breakdown.
"They play the system every night, said defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "They play the same way every night. There are no surprises, and if there is a breakdown the goalie makes the save. They block a ton of shots and somehow they get the job done."
The Philadelphia goalies haven't had that opportunity, as they have not had any chance to stop the vast majority of goals they have allowed as of late. All but Callahan's first goal from a bad angle were tic-tac-toe passing plays in which New York finished with a tap in at the open side of the net.
This is a fact in which the Flyers' skaters are well aware.
"Our goal is to win the Cup, and we have some things to work on," said Giroux. "I think we are getting better and everyone is on the same page. Guys will have to bear down here and we need all twenty players to work hard. We need to do a better job in front of our goalie."
Also mentioned in Timonen's post-game interview was the fact that not all of the Philly players are doing their share.
"We were disappointed with the effort, actually," said the All-Star defender. "The emotional level, playing against the top team in the conference...league. To be honest, I think we got half the guys going, half the guys not."
In their quest for Lord Stanley, it is likely that the road will eventually pass through New York. And at this point in time, that does not bode well for the Flyers. Especially if not everyone is chipping in, and unless they can upgrade their defensive unit.
Taking a Flyer: Scott Hartnell led Philadelphia with five shots on goal today, while defenseman Matt Carle had four of the 12 Flyers' blocked shots.....Tom Sestito racked up 24 penalty minutes for the contest without a single fight, registering two minors and two misconducts.....Danny Briere and Zac Rinaldo were also assessed misconducts on the day, as Philly accounted for 68 of the 110 PIMs for the afternoon.....Gaborik finished the afternoon with a four-point effort on a goal and three assists, while Brad Richards added three helpers. Derek Stepan had two assists.