PHILADELPHIA – Recently the Flyers have been gaining respectability by beating teams such as Los Angeles and Vegas.
But when it comes to the Metropolitan Division, there might still be a few more steps to climb to get on an even footing with a team as talented as the New York Rangers.
The first-place Rangers shuffled into the Wells Fargo Center on Black Friday afternoon and headed out with a convincing 3-1 win. The Rangers, led by ex-Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, now have 29 points, just one off the overall NHL lead.
The Flyers couldn’t overcome a slow start in which they fell behind by a 2-0 score less than two minutes into the match.
Philadelphia (10-9-1) has lost two straight after a recent impressive five-game winning streak.
Odd-man rushes appeared to be the culprit in the Flyers’ early struggles. The Rangers initiated a number of two-on-ones and the like.
Odd, because the Flyers have been pretty good at not allowing other teams extra-man advantages.
Coach John Tortorella acknowledged those extra-man rushes gave the Rangers a big advantage.
“Just way too many odd-man rushes,” he said. “It’s really been a staple of our team this year, our discipline with that. They were nowhere to be found with our backchecking. We did not have any support (from the forwards).”
The players knew something was amiss.
“We talked about it between periods, we’ve never seen so many odd-man rushes,” Cam Atkinson said. “They just came at us, two-on-ones, three-on-twos. I think it was just because our ‘D’ (defensemen) are anticipating the play and trying to ‘surf’ hoping that our forwards are covering for them.
“The forwards clearly were not. I think we were trying to cheat a little bit instead of erroring on the more cautious side, supporting our D. That’s why they (the Rangers) got so many chances in the first. I thought we kind of settled it down in the second.”
After falling behind by a 3-0 score, the Flyers finally got on the board with time winding down in the second period.
Sean Couturier won a left circle faceoff and went to the net. Point man Nick Seeler released a shot which Couturier managed to tip past goalie Igor Shesterkin at 17:39.
The second of two Mika Zibanejad goals put New York in front by a 3-0 score at 3:41 of the middle frame. Zibanejad raced to the net and managed to deflect Blake Wheeler’s pass beyond goaltender Carter Hart’s reach.
That goal gave Zibanejad four goals for the season. He entered the game with just a pair.
The Rangers didn’t waste any time getting an edge in this game, racing to that lead early on.
Zibanejad got things started by finishing off a two-on-one rush with Wheeler just 45 seconds after the opening puck drop.
Then a Travis Sanheim miscue led to the second New York goal. The Flyers won a defensive zone faceoff and Sanheim attempted an ill-advised pass through the lower slot. Chris Kreider stepped in, intercepted the puck and poked it past goaltender Carter Hart in one motion for the 2-0 edge.
“You can’t give those guys opportunities,” Atkinson said. “It’s something you can control. I know everyone wants to make plays but you have to play defense first. You just have to be ready to track at all times. Once we track, it gives us so many more opportunities for us to get on the offense. We just got away from it.”
The Flyers entered the game 0-5 when trailing after the first period.
Garnet Hathaway was involved in two fights and bumped bodies most of the afternoon. It’s a necessary aspect of playing a team like the Rangers.
“It’s a division game and those two points mean a lot when you come down to it,” Hathaway said. “But I don’t think you can focus on it too much. We have a lot of division games coming up. It (fights) are just part of the game.”
Entering the game, the Flyers were tied for the most wins in the NHL since Nov. 10. They were also tied for highest goal differential (plus-10) during that span. . .The Flyers fell to 24-9-5 all-time in Black Friday games. . .Philadelphia returns to play the Islanders again on Saturday night at UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y. The Flyers suffered a 3-2 loss there on Wednesday night. Goaltender Samuel Ersson is likely to make the start in this game because the Flyers have not played a goalie in back-to-back games this season. The Flyers are 2-1-0 in the second half of back-to-backs.. . .Sean Couturier played in his 739th game with the Flyers, moving past Eric Desjardins for sole possession of ninth place on Philadelphia’s all-time games-played list. . .A scoring attempt by Kreider with 6:32 to play was disallowed when the Flyers won an offsides challenge.