3 Stars: Rangers flatten Flyers in crucial Metropolitan Division matchup at MSG

3 Stars: Rangers flatten Flyers in crucial Metropolitan Division matchup at MSG

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 3-1 loss to the rival New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City through the perspective of crippling turnovers, a group of players that were hardly noticeable and one dominant goaltender.

In what could quite possibly have been their biggest game of the season, the Flyers came up short. Real short.

That’s now eight straight losses for the Flyers at Madison Square Garden.  Ouch.

 

3. Defensive-zone turnovers

Go back and watch replays of each of the Rangers’ three goals and you’ll find a common theme: Really bad defensive-zone turnovers that led to the puck winding up in the back of the Flyers’ net within seconds.

Slightly before the Rangers’ opening tally, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen couldn’t handle a pass along the boards from his netminder, Steve Mason. The Rangers were there to pounce on the turnover and throw the puck on net. Derek Dorsett ultimately knocked home a rebound.

In the second period, Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald made a soft clearing attempt that Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh easily picked off and eventually sniped past Mason to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

And then in the third period, Flyers winger Michael Raffl fumbled the puck along the boards and turned it over. Moments later, a seemingly harmless wrist shot was deflected by Rangers winger Dominic Moore and trickled through Mason to complete the hat trick of horrible defensive-zone turnovers that wound up in the Flyers’ net.

Though he should have had the last one, Mason was pretty much left hung out to dry. It was the kind of defense that we had seen from the Flyers in October, not the kind we had seen over their recent hot streak. The objective now is to not make a trend down the stretch.

 

2. The Flyers’ top line

Forget about Jake Voracek’s goal late in third period because it didn’t mean anything except an upward tick in his goal total for the season. The game was well over by then.

The Flyers’ top line is listed here for all the wrong reasons.

Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Voracek really didn’t show up on Wednesday night at The Garden. They were hardly noticed when the Flyers needed them to step up and generate some offense in the worst way.

The Rangers’ top defensive pairing of Dan Girardi and the aforementioned McDonagh clearly keyed in on the Giroux line and did their best to take the Flyers captain and his linemates out of the game. They got the matchups they wanted. Girardi and McDonagh are really good defensemen but the Flyers’ top line has to have a much better showing than what we saw Wednesday night.

Flyers TV analyst Rick Tocchet even took to twitter to say he felt Wednesday was the worst game he had seen Giroux play in some time.

A legitimate argument can be made that the Flyers’ fourth line was the team’s most effective line in the offensive zone. Good for them but not good for the Flyers.

 

1. Henrik Lundqvist

That, my friends, was what you would call a superior goaltending performance.

Lundqvist was his usual spectacular self, making 31 saves for his 27th career victory over the Flyers. They weren’t all easy saves, either.

His second-period save on Adam Hall was a sight to see as he somehow flashed his pad over to rob the Flyers center on a rebound. At the beginning of that second period, he made an equally remarkable save when kept the puck pinned between his skate blade and the ice as Flyers swarmed the crease for a Brayden Schenn rebound.

Lundquvist was at the top of his game and asserted his dominance from the time the puck dropped. You could say it was vintage Lundqvist. Is he old enough or been in the league long enough to say that?

Whatever you want to call it, you just don’t want see it come playoff time if you’re a Flyers fan if the teams do meet in the opening round. A lot can happen over the next few weeks, though.

 

Two straight losses are never good at this time of the year. But Wednesday’s loss in New York is a bit more concerning than the loss to Los Angeles this past Monday because the Flyers didn’t bring their best effort in a crucial game. There was basically no pushback to the Rangers’ onslaught. The Rangers’ second goal seemed to deflate the Flyers and they could never recover.

The good news is that the steaming tire fire that is the Toronto Maple Leafs – losers of six straight and – comes to South Philly on Friday. It’ll be a prime opportunity for the Flyers to get back on their feet against a team that considers defense highly optional and gives up more shots than the Sixers’ 2-3 zone.

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."