FFR2 Gm 64: NYR 2, PHI 5 - It's a G Thing
Sorry, Rangers, but the Flyers have a strict no return policy on elite second line centers and Jack Adams worthy coaches.
For the fifth time in a row, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-1, over the New York Rangers. New York's five game overall game and franchise record nine game winning streaks both come to an end, as the Flyers have now won five straight of their own and are TEN games above actual .500 (not just points percentage) for the first time this season.
This was never going to be an easy game for the Rangers to win. Yes, New York came into the game on fire, winning nine of their last ten games to pull within two points of a playoff spot. However, they played last night in Montreal, not arriving to their hotel until around 2:30 AM. The Flyers have been off since Tuesday and are well rested. David Quinn opted to start Alex Georgiev for the second straight night, with rookie sensation Igor Shesterykin out with a rib injury sustained in a recent car crash and Henrik Lundqvist falling victim to father time. And to top it all off, Chris Kreider fractured his foot blocking a Phil Myers shot in the 1st period, leaving the Rangers without one of their best forwards for the final forty minutes (and the next four to six weeks).
But despite all of those circumstances, I don't think many people expected the Flyers to dominate like they did Friday night. And make no mistake about it - this was a dominate victory. Sure, Jesper Fast scored on a breakaway by batting his rebound in with one hand of his stick less than three minutes in. But that's where the Rangers good fortunes ended. The Flyers hit peak form about ten minutes later and never relented. It was one of their most complete efforts of the season.
It truly was all downhill from there for New York, as the Flyers held an equal or better 5-on-5 Corsi and Expected Goals For% in every period (61.76% and 66.35%, respectively). Sean Couturier ensured that nobody would see the opening as another "bad" first period despite their territorial control by burying a back-door, assisted by Jake Voracek and Brendan Lemieux's broken stick, which slowed the puck up for Jake below the goal-line. It was the start of an explosive night from the Flyers top-line that produced two goals at 5-on-5, and another on the power-play.
They did not score the game-winner, however. The second period was pretty back-and-forth. Even though the Flyers had the better of play, both teams had some quality chances. Giroux hit the post less than 20 seconds into the frame, then Georgiev robbed Kevin Hayes moments later. Carter Hart and the Flyers penalty kill was able to hold down the fort against the NHL's number one power-play since the end of December.
Eventually, the deadlock was broken. Nicolas Aube-Kubel was able to make a controlled entry at the blue-line (a rarity for him), and flick a shot on goal. Georgiev made the blocker save, but punched the rebound right into the slot for a JVRebound goal. Barely two minutes later, Voracek found Giroux alone in the right circle, where the captain unloaded an absolute laser over Georgiev's glove, suddenly doubling up the Flyers lead.
The third period was a coach's dream. New York took a penalty 99 seconds into the frame, and after a lot of zone time, Voracek whipped a backdoor pass to what used to be Wayne Simmonds' office that banked off Giroux's skate and in. The Flyers played perfect shutdown defense for basically the rest of the frame. It's not often a team leading by three goals is able to outshoot and out-chance the opposition, but that's exactly what the Flyers did.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Flyers-Rangers game without a Kevin Hayes revenge goal. Seconds after killing off a penalty, Scott Laughton started the Flyers on a rush. Laughton was checked inside the blue-line, but the puck trickled right back to Voracek, who had a full head of steam coming straight from the box. Hayes was open on the far side, loaded the cannon, and sent a heat-seeking missile that Georgiev could only dream of saving. A late defensive breakdown saw Brett Howden bury a goal in the dying seconds, and although it was a frustrating lapse, it did little to dampen the mood when the Orange and the Black started playing just a little bit later.
Once again, the Flyers showed up and showed off against an Eastern Conference foe trying to chase them down in the standings. The win ensures the gap between the clubs on Sunday evening won't be any smaller than the seven-point margin it was Friday morning. But of course, the Flyers don't want to settle. On Sunday afternoon at MSG, the Flyers will have a chance to bury a dagger in the Rangers, just like they did to the Panthers and Blue Jackets the last two weeks. Doing so won't make the Rangers a bad team or ensure they miss the playoffs, but it would create sizable separation between the two clubs. They've planted the dagger; now it's time to bury it.
But you don't have to look at the standings or the analytics to realize the Flyers are playing like one of the best teams in hockey right now. The Flyers have had their moments over the last few seasons - heck, they were first in the Metro two years ago from Thursday. But they're a much more consistent team, one that sticks to their game-plan night in and night out and execute it very well. Carter Hart was sensational in goal again tonight, making several highlight reel saves, including two one-timer saves on New York's top sniper Artemi Panarin. The special teams were outstanding, as the power play has been revitalized since G moved back to the left, and the PK remains outstanding. Every coach, player, and management member deserves a round of applause for what they have done so far.
Of course, there is a long way to go - 18 more games in the regular season, and hopefully many more after in the playoffs. I don't know if the Flyers will win the Stanley Cup. I don't know if they'll come all that close. But after watching not just 64 games this season, but nearly every game each of the last three-four seasons, I know one thing: this team is good. They might be really good. Plenty of good teams before them have floundered in big moments, but you can't do much if you're not good. The Flyers have achieved that step. Maintaining it is harder, but they have the depth, coaching, and resilience to do it. They're beginning to take a step forward. What a sight it is to see.
In my opinion, the Flyers MVP Friday was 15-year old Blake Steigauf. Blake was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, and was connected with the Flyers through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Blake practiced with the Flyers yesterday, signed a one-day contract, led the team out for warm-ups (rookie lap included, naturally), and was introduced with the starters. He also joined G for post-game interviews. What a great moment.
Tonight was a rare scratch for Lou Nolan, the Flyers long-time PA announcer, who was out with an illness. Flyers home games without him just aren't the same without him, so hopefully he's back soon.
Claude Giroux has been lighting up the Rangers his entire NHL career. He scored the shootout winner that clinched the Flyers a playoff spot in 2010 at New York's expense. His first career regular season hat-trick in 2018 helped the Flyers clinch as well. After tonight's performance, G has 51 points in 55 games against the Rags.
Kevin Hayes has come up clutch in both contests against his former team this year, scoring three goals in two games in addition to his stellar puck possession and PK work. He could've easily had more points with how dominant he was. The other former Ranger, Alain Vigneault, jumped into 10th place all-time for coaching wins. Should've kept, Rangers.
Hayes has become such a fan-favorite in Philly he literally has a beer named after him. Yards Brewing Company has created an IPA named after your favorite penalty-killing and chirping center.
Yards is also selling Big Hayesy t-shirts in their taproom that will be available on their website next week. The shirts are $20, and proceeds will go to cancer research. Here's Jake Voracek modeling one post-game.
Voracek tied a career-high with four assists; the other times he did it were 2/18/13 and 12/20/14, per Dave Isaac of the Courier Post. He's also the first Flyer to ever have a four-assist game against the Rangers, per NHL PR.
Speaking of Jake, POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose, Da Snake (Last Win - 1/13) - 4
Raff, Gobs, Teeks - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitsy, #OskarStrong, Hollywood - 2
Starter, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Lyon King, Hagger, G, Unknown - 1
After winning five straight games, tying their longest win streak of the season (Nov. 25 - Dec. 3), the Flyers have tied their 2018-19 win total (37). In February. They also passed the Penguins (who have a game in hand) for second place in the Metro. What a team these Flyers are becoming.
Here's a breakdown of the Flyers record by month:
Fifteen more games in a busy March, then three more regular season games in April. I've got a feeling there will be more than three games of Flyers hockey in April. You know the drill: just keep winning. For once, I think the Flyers do, too.
1st - Jake Voracek (PHI) - 4 Assists (35, 36, 37, 38)
2nd - Claude Giroux (PHI) - 2 Goals (18, 19)
3rd - Carter Hart (PHI) - .929 SV% (26 Saves/28 Shots)
NYR - 3/1 vs. PHI (Long time, no see! 37-20-7, W5)
PHI - 3/1 @ NYR (Where have I seen this before? 35-25-4, L1)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com