Given the absence of five top forwards, plus the lack of game action in 10 days, the Flyers weren’t given much of a chance against the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
So when the Flyers scored with 1:14 to play to tie the score at 2-2 and guarantee themselves at least one point, it had to be considered quite a moral victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
The list of players not in the lineup for the orange, black and white included top-nine forwards Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton and Oskar Lindblom, plus defenseman Justin Braun.
In their absence: Rookies Maksim Sushko, Sam Morin and David Kase, along with journeyman Andy Andreoff.
But the Flyers showed their mettle by playing the Rangers almost dead even until New York took a lead in the third period.
Then, in a rousing final two minutes – and with goaltender Carter Hart pulled for a sixth attacker – Joel Farabee poked in the rebound of a Kevin Hayes shot and the Flyers had life.
The Rangers eventually won the game, 3-2, by grabbing a 2-1 margin in the shootout (the clincher coming from sharpshooter Artemi Panarin) but the Flyers could keep their heads up as they get ready for Sunday’s big game against the Boston Bruins at Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
To their credit, the Flyers didn’t take too many bows after this one, which a team should never do after a loss, regardless of the circumstances.
Ultimately, though, the Flyers should feel good about this one and the character they showed.
“I felt good about the way we played in the first and third period,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said via a media Zoom call. “In the first period, five-on-five, we didn’t give them a scoring chance.
“In the second period there were a couple misreads on our part in the neutral zone that led to some counters on their part. But I like the way they competed.’’
True, especially being away from the ice for so long. Don’t forget, the Flyers added an extra day to the NHL-mandated shutdown and didn’t get into the Skate Zone practice facility until Tuesday.
“We tried to play a simple north-south game,’’ Vigneault said. “We were able to come back and get that point and lost in the skill competition at the end but we battled hard tonight.’’
The Flyers took a 1-0 lead just 59 seconds into the game on a goal by Nicolas Aube-Kubel and that held up until the Rangers scored early in the second on a power play.
Then the Rangers went ahead in the third when Panarin set up Brandon Smith for an open-net goal.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get it done in the shootout (the Flyers are now 0-2 for the season in that department),’’ Vigneault said, “but it wasn’t from a lack of compete on our part, or lack of trying to make the right play at the right time.’’
The players acknowledged this was an effort worth noting, given the roster changes.
“I don’t think we’re satisfied with just getting a point, we wanted to win that game,’’ Farabee said. “Felt like we had our chances. In my opinion, I really liked the effort from the guys. A lot of guys stepped in tonight who hadn’t played in a while.’’
>Negative shot totals still a concern
The Flyers entered the game dead-last in shots taken and have been hovering in the minus-130 range (factoring in shots allowed). At some point, this could be a point of concern.
In the Rangers game, the Flyers did their best to get shots on the New York goal but a lot of them were either blocked or missed the net entirely.
“We are not getting enough shots on the net,’’ Vigneault admitted. “That’s an area that we’ve been talking about. We haven’t been able to work at it lately. It’s something we would like to improve on.’’
>Provorov ironman streak nears record
When Ivan Provorov plays on Sunday, he will tie defenseman Dan Girardi’s record for most consecutive games played at the start of a career for one team. With Giroux out of the lineup, ending his ironman streak at 328 games, Provorov now moves into second place alone on the Flyers’ alltime list with 329. The Flyers’ record is 484, held by Rod Brind’Amour.
On top of that, Provorov is third in the NHL in minutes played at 26 and change.
>Power play has excuses. . .but needs to be better
While some of the Flyers’ best power-play performers weren’t in the game, the team needs to work on the man advantage. The Flyers were ranked as high as 10th in the NHL at one point. Now they’ve slipped all the way to 19th at 19.2 percent. Over the last seven games, the Flyers are just two for 23.
>Hart’s juggling act paying off
Hart has been working on his eye-hand drills which feature four-ball juggling. He says he’s gotten that down pretty well. It sure looked fine in Thursday night’s game.
“There’s no doubt Carter did what a good goaltender has to do to give your team a chance to win,’’ Vigneault said. “That’s what Carter did from the start, and especially in that second period when he made some big, big saves.’’
Perhaps his highlight play of the night came against Pavel Buchnevich. He stopped the sniper on a breakaway, then after a penalty shot was called against Provorov, stopped him a second time on the charity try.
“We know they have some skilled guys on their team,’’ Hart said. “I thought we did a good job keeping things mostly to the outside. Our PK was good, the kill in overtime (a penalty on Nolan Patrick) was huge.’’