Friday, November 28, 2014

(Orange and) Black Friday: Listless Flyers lose to Rangers

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

It was only nine days ago that Ron Hextall descended from his perch and delivered a brief, blistering post-game tirade after a passionless shutout loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

It was only two days ago that the players closed the doors and discussed things amongst themselves after a three-goal loss in Detroit.

Whatever passed between management and skaters and between each other, it still hasn't registered fully. And the clock is ticking while the club is about to go on their first extended road swing of the season.

Cam Talbot extended his personal scoreless streak against Philadelphia this season to 120 minutes thanks to a 26-save performance, Rick Nash tallied a deflating short-handed goal in the third period, and the New York Rangers opened a home-and-home series with a 3-0 decision over the Flyers on Friday afternoon.

"It feels pretty good obviously, and the win is the big thing for us because we need the two points and we need to start putting a lot of games together here, and hopefully start a bit of a streak here," said Talbot. "(Today) was another good stepping stone for me, and hopefully moving forward I can continue to help the team win whenever I am in there."

Martin St. Louis hit a milestone with a goal, Dan Boyle also hit the net and Derek Stepan assisted on all three markers for the Blueshirts. The Rangers have won three of their last four -- and all by blanking their opponent (Flyers twice, Canadiens once).

Steve Mason did all he could to keep the visitors at bay, but despite his 21 saves, the hosts dropped their third straight contest and seventh in their last eight.

It's been the same players repeating the same problems for virtually three whole seasons and two coaches, but Flyers head coach Craig Berube thinks the root of his team's issues are a different kind of internal matter.

"I don't think it was an effort problem, I think it was a frustration problem. I didn't like the penalties. We have to get tougher mentally. They have to believe in themselves and trust each other. That's where it starts, I think. You lose your composure and become frustrated when you stop playing like a team."

Less than a minute into the game's first power play, created when Dominic Moore goaded Zac Rinaldo into a roughing call inside the New York defensive zone, Boyle took a St. Louis dish and ripped a shot from the left point which beat Mason inside the far post at 6:10 of the first period.

Moore went to the box just over a minute later for interfering with/kneeing Claude Giroux in his offensive zone, and Mason had to be quick to deny a Carl Hagelin break after he beat Mark Streit to a loose puck at center ice. The hosts only managed one shot -- from Vinny Lecavalier -- and no other quality chances.

Hextall who appeared in the locker room at home for the first time all year, for his part, stayed on the prime talking point with his own postgame message.

"I think the first period was all right and it seems like we came apart after that," he said in a distinctly calmer manner. I think our frustration level is high and we have to find a way to flush that out. There are no short-term fixes here. I will say this, that it's a better team than how we're playing right now and this is a better team than the record's (8-11-3) showing.

One thing that's clear from the off-ice perspective, is that while the symptoms have been diagnosed and discussed among this group, there are either no answers to the nature of the disease, or nothing concrete that anyone wants to share at this juncture.

After the Flyers failed to click on the initial advantage of the second period, the Rangers picked up another goal. Philly had two chances to clear the zone and failed, leading to Chris Kreider dishing to the right wing for Stepan. His shot was turned away by Mason but St. Louis slipped behind coverage to tap in the rebound at 4:14.  The marker was St. Louis' 1,000th career point.

"To get a thousand, it's a great accomplishment," St. Louis said. "I'm not going to hide my feelings, I'm proud of that. To do it in a win, and to do it on a goal, I think it makes it even more special."

Mason slid across his crease to close the five-hole and deny a Jesper Fast one-timer late in the Flyers' third power play of the contest, but they couldn't find the touch at even strength either.

As always, Berube has a simple explanation for what ails his team when only three players have contributed their share offensively: "You want me to score for 'em? We're gonna keep working, that's what we're gonna keep doing. If we have to win games 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 that's what we have to do."

New York failed to mount much offense on a Jakub Voracek slashing minor just over 2 1/2 minutes into the third period, but when Kreider turned his raised stick into Sean Couturier's mouth at 4:33, it was a prime chance for the hosts to turn things around with a four minute advantage.

Instead, the Rangers tripled their lead. Caught with just Streit back, Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Nash broke up ice 3-on-1, with the former dishing across to the latter for a dagger from the right circle 5 1/2 minutes in. 

These clubs meet again tomorrow afternoon in Manhattan, the first of five away from home and across the continent for Berube's flatlined roster.

"We just have to finish the job once we hit the ice tomorrow," St. Louis said. 

Notes: Talbot is the first Rangers goaltender to shut out the Flyers twice in one season since Steve Valiquette did so during the 2007-08 season ... His shutout streak against Philly now stands at 156 minutes, 27 seconds dating back to relief duty in Game 6 of last Spring's Eastern Conference quarterfinal series ... St. Louis became just the sixth undrafted player to reach 1,000 points in the NHL, after Wayne Gretzky, Paul Stastny, Dino Ciccarelli, Joe Mullen and Adam Oates ... Pierre-Edouard Bellemare skated only 7:36 in the contest, far and away the lowest total for any player on either team ... Though the Flyers' penalty killers, ranked 30th in the NHL, held the Rangers on five of six short-handed situations, the Rangers had seven shots to Philly's five on six power-play chances ... Jason Akeson cleared waivers and was assigned to Lehigh Valley of the AHL. 
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