FFR2 Gm 65: PHI 5, NYR 2 - ReAVenge
The dagger has been planted - again.
For the first time this season, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN for the sixth-time in a row, beating the New York Rangers for the second time in three days by a final score of 5-3. The Flyers have now won eleven more games than they have lost, pulling three points ahead of slumping Pittsburgh and just one point behind Washington (both of whom have a game in hand). Safe to say the return to MSG for AV and Kevin Hayes will be one to remember.
They did it to the Panthers two weeks away. They did it to the Blue Jackets a week ago. This week, it was the Rangers whose momentum was stopped in its tracks in a home-and-home sweep by the Flyers. While most of the Metro has been struggling lately (the Caps and Pens are both 3-6-1 in their last 10), the Flyers are surging, and though each of their wins have left something to be desired, the Flyers overall are playing their best hockey in a long time.
Like the Rangers on Friday, the Flyers struck early, with Matt Niskanen punching home a net-mouth scramble goal less than three minutes after puck drop, but then dropped off a little bit. Carter Hart was absolutely sensational in the first period, stopping Mika Zibanejad on a breakaway and robbing Pavel Buchnevich on a Ranger power play.
After Hart turned aside all those nail-biting chances, the Flyers earned their second power-play of the afternoon. A few months ago, when the PP was sputtering, it may have been a nothing moment, but it proved to be the turning point of the game. Jake Voracek tried to kick off the same play that netted Giroux his power play goal on Friday. Henrik Lundqvist kicked the pass away from G, but the rebound bounced right to Sean Couturier, who pounced on the puck to double up the lead.
Late in the first period, the Rangers went to the man advantage themselves, but fell victim to the Flyers aggressive PK. Michael Raffl laid a hit that knocked a Ranger down, and Derek Grant poked the puck ahead, creating a 2-on-1. Grant found Raffl streaking up the middle, who fooled Lundqvist with a beautiful forehand-backhand move to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead on the team's sixth shortie of the year.
Not content with just recording an assist, Derek Grant would go to work early in the second period. Grant broke up the left-wing in a mini 2-on-1, but New York's Ryan Lindgren played the situation way too passively, allowing Grant to walk in and take a page out of Raffl's book with another backhand deke and easy goal, his first as a Flyer!
For the most part, the Flyers were outstanding through the first 40 minutes. The offense was clicking, as the Flyers were spending plenty of time in the offensive zone, and after some hiccups in the first, began to clamp down defensively. Carter Hart continued to play well in the second, but was beaten for the first time on a power-play re-direct by Mika Zibanejad. His teammates would pick him right back up, as Voracek hit TK for a backdoor tip-in five seconds into another power-play, restoring the four goal lead before intermission.
However, the third period was all Rangers, which you would expect considering the score. The Flyers have done a great job defying score effects, the theory/stat that trailing teams are more likely to outshoot and out-chance the team that's leading. The Rangers had a strong game by analytics going already (outshooting & outchancing the Flyers in every period), and they only amplified that in the 3rd period (63.64% Corsi, 72.77% xGF). Pavel Buchnevich deflected in a power-play goal 5 and a half minutes in, and then when with just over 7 minutes to go, Zibanejad beat Hart on a mini-breakaway after a failed clear for another PP goal. Why does it have to be close?
The numbers don't tell the story on Carter Hart's afternoon. It's been no secret that Hart has struggled on the road this season, winning just three games (only one in regulation) away from the Wells Fargo Center. An .885 save percentage normally isn't anything to write home about. However, Hart was expected to allow 3.55 goals, but kept the Rangers to three, and even that doesn't show how great Hart was. If Hart didn't make at least four key saves between the Niskanen and Couturier goals, this might have been a very different game.
But of course, this has been a very different season from the Flyers compared to the last decade. This was a fun game pretty much from start to finish. The Flyers were aggressive, relentless, the special teams were solid (the PK's had better days, but they played better than their 50% success rate), and goaltending was a solution, not a problem. It's a breath of fresh air that will never get old.
You can see the confidence growing in the players and the coaching staff every single game. Some of the biggest problems for the Flyers this season (first period play, power plays) were much better Sunday. That doesn't mean they're fixed for good, but it shows progress, just like the standings do. They're good, alright. Maybe even a little bit better than that. March is the month where contenders emerge. It will be fascinating to see where the Flyers are at the end of the month. They put one heck of a first foot forward Sunday afternoon.
It's been a rough season for Henrik Lundqvist. He's effectively fallen to third on the goalie depth chart, and even with Igor Shesterykin hurt, he's still not playing often. This was his first start since February 3, and it was clear he was rusty. Lundqvist turns 38 tomorrow. He's not finished yet, I don't think, but it seems like the King's best days are behind him.
A scary moment midway through the second when Robert Hagg blocked a shot in the head. Thankfully, Hagger was ok and returned to action.
Joel Farabee was re-called prior to Sunday, as Sean Couturier was a game-time decision with the flu. It's worth noting teams can only make four call-ups after the trade deadline, and though emergency loans don't count to that limit, it was reported that Farabee's call-up was a standard one. He was sent down post-game.
According to NHL PR, Travis Konecny became the third Flyer in the last 21 years to record 60+ points in a season at age 22 or younger, joining Mike Richards (2007-08) and Simon Gagne (2001-02).
The Flyers tied a season-high with three power-play goals Sunday. Per Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP), the PP is 12 for 35 since Claude Giroux moved back to the left. Post-game, Voracek told Brian Boucher, "We got moved back to our old spots ... Now we just have a lot of options ... Every time we make a pass it's really dangerous for opposing teams." Even the new stuff is starting to pay dividends.
It was a rough weekend for Brendan Lemieux. First, the guy he was traded for (Kevin Hayes) scored two goals on Friday, and then fought off boos in his return to MSG. Then, Lemieux received a 2-minute unsportsmanlike and a 10-minute misconduct for dropping his gloves and trying to fight an unwilling Flyer. And there was TK and Laughts literally stealing his soul and killing him in cold blood via death by a thousand chirps Friday night.
You can feel his fear from here.
POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose, Da Snake - 4
Raff, Gobs, Teeks, - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitsy, #OskarStrong, Hollywood - 2
Starter, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Lyon King, Hagger, G, Unknown, Grant (We'll work on a nickname) - 1
If the Wild beat the Capitals in regulation tonight, Wednesday night's Flyers-Capitals game will be for first in the Metro. Whether that opportunity happens or not, and no matter what happens in it if it comes, how great is it we're talking about the Flyers being such a great team.
Power rankings will come out sometime this week.
1st - Derek Grant (PHI) - Goal (15), Assist (7)
2nd - Travis Konecny (PHI) - Goal (23), Assist (37)
3rd - Mika Zibanejad (NYR) - 2 Goals (31, 32), Assist (33)
PHI - 3/4 @ WSH (39-19-6, L1)
NYR - 3/3 vs. STL (39-17-10, W7)