FFR2 Gm 37: NYR 1, PHI 5 - Ghost of Blueshirts Past
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night, and good hockey!
For the fourth straight time heading into holiday break, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-1, over the New York Rangers! Revenge is a dish best served with a win, and Kevin Hayes and Alain Vigneault can certainly attest, as the two former Rangers earned a victory in the latter's first game since leaving New York.
The final score of this game does not indicate how close it was. Statistically, the teams played to almost a dead heat, with the Flyers holding a slight edge in 5-on-5 Corsi (50.6%), Expected Goals (55.57%), and penalty differential (6 drawn, 4 taken). Both goalies were sensational for most of the game, giving their teams a great chance to win. With less than eight minutes to play, the game was tied, 1-1, and overtime was looking possible, if not probable.
Getting too that moment was harder than the numbers made it look. The Flyers actually played one of their better first periods of the year, encouraging considering the opening frame has been a weakness for most of the season. But a combination of Lundqvist's stellar play and the return of the Flyers power play woes prevented them from gaining an early lead. Carter Hart was great himself, keeping the game scoreless heading into the second with a great kick save late in the first on Jesper Fast.
But the power play truly hit rock bottom in the second period, when the Rangers forced a 2-on-1 that turned into the first goal of the game. Hart stopped Brady Skjei's backhander (with some help from the post), but the Flyers couldn't prevent Skjei from finding Jesper Fast for a one-timer in the slot that became the game's first goal. As the PP sputtered, the Flyers continued to play well at 5-on-5. Morgan Frost had the best chance of the frame with a one-timer off the rush, only to be robbed by Lundqvist. The Rangers created a couple decent chances themselves, with Hart stopping Panarin on several great chances, one coming point blank on a NY power play.
So, with twelve and a half minutes to play, the game was up for grabs. It wouldn't be for much longer. And the Rangers have no one to blame but themselves. It wasn't Alain Vigneault's fault that he was unable to keep an aging Rangers roster as a legitimate playoff contender despite their lack of a game-changing forward or depth on defense. Heck, he kept them at a .500 record in 17-18 before management blew it up. Keeping Kevin Hayes would've solidified the Rangers center depth behind Mika Zibanejad, perhaps saving them from ruining former #7 overall pick Lias Andersson.
And it was those two that would make the difference Monday night. Joel Farabee returned from his three-game suspension on a line with Morgan Frost and Jake Voracek, but AV wisely put him back on a line that had dominated previously with Hayes and JVR. Sure enough, Farabee made a perfect cross-ice pass to Hayes, and he ripped an absolute dart over the glove of Lundqvist to give the Flyers their first lead of the night!
The Rangers continued to press, coming within inches of tying the game when a Mika Zibanejad shot rang off the post. It seemed like they were in great position to make a comeback. And then the Flyers first line jumped over the boards. In the blink of an eye, the Rags went from cycling to scrambling when G found Coots for a partial breakaway. Hank made the save, but Couturier got the rebound, missing Tyler Pitlick all alone in front but still finding the trailer Travie Sanheim to bury the puck before Lundqvist could get back in position.
Combine that with a Herculean effort by Hayes just a few minutes later, driving the net with a beautiful backhand-forehand move, falling over Lundqvist like Bobby Orr as he slid the puck in, and the Flyers had suddenly taken control. Even the power play delivered a last-minute stuffing stocker in the form of St. Nic (Aube-Kubel's) first NHL goal, a snipe from the slot past Lundqvist's glove. Philly put up four in the third like it was nobody's business. Suddenly, they're flying like Rudolph heading into holiday break with a four game winning streak.
This is the second straight year the Flyers have beaten the Rangers on Festivus, but wow have things changed since then. 365 days ago, a resurgent Michal Neuvirth returning from injury (shocker) kept the Flyers hanging on until Nolan Patrick fired home the shootout winner. Back then, we were talking about if Scott Gordon was the answer behind the bench, if Carter Hart was ready between the pipes, if this new management group could find a way to get this team going again.
And look at them now. Third in the Metropolitan Division, by far the toughest division in the NHL. First in the NHL in home points percentage. A dynamite penalty kill. An incredibly deep roster that can win even when the Phantoms entire top-six has to dress. An elite (I said, ELITE) starting goaltender under club control through 2025. A proven winner behind the bench who took his last team to the Stanley Cup Finals in year number one, who has the desire to repeat that once again only with a much different result.
True, it's only 37 games. True, the Flyers aren't legitimate Cup contenders. But they are here, loud and proud, rocking the Wells Fargo Center on a game-in and game-out basis. Last year, they were a chore; now, they are a treat. This is what Flyers hockey is supposed to look like. Thank you Santa, Jesus, Chuck Fletcher, whoever is responsible for this - thank you.
Now, let's keep it going. Merry Christmas, everyone. The Flyers are fun again.
I'm changing the spelling, not the purpose. To be honest, I think it makes more sense AND looks better spelled this way.
New York did have a golden opportunity to seize control early despite the Flyers strong start with a 5-on-3 for 1:04 midway through the opening stanza. But the Rangers only managed two shots on goal, and Hart and the Flyers PK held down the fort.
Per Alex Appleyard (@avappleyard), Jake Voracek recorded his 400th assist Monday, becoming just the 10th player to reach 400 helpers in the 2010s. He joins Giroux, Backstrom, Crosby, P. Kane, Getzlaf, E. Karlsson, Thornton, Wheeler, and Kopitar. Not bad company.
Philly's win tonight breaks up a 6-game winning streak against Metropolitan Division foes for the Rangers.
The Flyers had also never won five consecutive games against King Henrik tonight. He was great tonight for most of the games, but he'll probably be kicking himself for Sanheim's first goal, which opened the floodgates.
This was Kevin Hayes' fifth career two-goal game, his first since December 10, 2018 against the Bolts. It's also Sanheim's third, and first since February 28, 2019 against Columbus (his first was also against CBJ), breaking a 16-game goal-less drought in the process.
Like the Flyers as a whole, Carter Hart has been absolutely lights out this season at the Wells Fargo Center. His eleven wins on home ice are tied for the most in the NHL.
POG Helmet Standings!
Moose - 3
Raff, Steady Eddie, TK, JVR - 2
Starter, #OskarStrong, Coots, Phil, Snowman, Snake, Pitsy, Laughts, Timba (David Kase's nickname, a Lion King reference), Hayeser - 1
While the Rangers may be rivals on the ice, stick taps to the six Rangers who wore Oskar Strong t-shirts underneath their jerseys Monday night. Same to the Ottawa Senators coaching staff, who wore their Hockey Fights Cancer ties on Saturday. #OskarStrong
1st - Kevin Hayes (PHI) - 2 Goals (1/2)
2nd - Carter Hart (PHI) - .971 SV% (34/35), 1 GA on 2.98 xGA
3rd - Travis Sanheim (PHI) - 2 Goals (2/2), 68.42% Corsi, 75.92% xGF
NYR - 12/27 vs. CAR (22-13-2, L2)
PHI - 12/28 @ SJ (16-20-2, L3)
*Advanced Stats via Naturalstatrick.com