Flyers open crucial week with loss to Rangers

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Flyers open crucial week with loss to Rangers

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Are they a playoff contender? Or a pretender?

This is the week the Flyers get to answer that question about themselves with games against Pittsburgh, Boston and Tuesday’s opponent … the Rangers.

Their first attempt wasn’t very good.

A series of poorly executed line and defensive pair changes cost the Flyers dearly in a 4-2 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Peter Laviolette’s club hit the midway point again under .500 at 11-12-1, while the Rangers (24 points) also dropped the Flyers (23 points) from eighth to ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.

“Not good, we’re not good,” goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said when asked how he’d sum up the Flyers after 24 games.

“Obviously, we’re not where we want to be. And the farther it is gonna be is going to be more ugly. This is the reality.”

What has to get better?

“I can’t afford to say,” he replied. “We have coaches who are responsible for improvements.”

Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan did all the damage with two goals apiece.

Nash broke a 2-2 tie just 2:50 into the third period after the Flyers had a strong shift in the Rangers’ end with Henrik Lundqvist making a save on Jakub Voracek.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi caught the Flyers in a line change, outletting the puck quickly to Nash, who beat Bryzgalov stick side under his arm.

Nash put it away with another goal soon after off a bad defensive change involving Luke Schenn coming off too late.

“There’s been too many of them,” Laviolette fumed. “Too many discussions and too many topics about the line changes. It needs to be executed and it’s not.”

His players knew, too.

“Their third and fourth goals came off line changes,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Things like that can’t happen. You got to keep the game simple, maybe keep one guy out there. That was the difference.”

Bryzgalov also had problems trying to poke check Nash and Callahan on three goals coming right at him.

The game saw two injuries, as well. Flyers defenseman Nick Grossmann suffered a groin injury, sources said, in the opening period and did not return (see story).

Then, with 14:15 left to play, the Rangers lost defenseman Marc Staal. Kimmo Timonen’s slap shot off a faceoff was deflected upward by Voracek and hit Staal above the right eye.

Staal, who does not wear a visor, was bleeding, crumbled to the ice and rolled around in obvious pain, but actually got up on his own -- a good sign.

As has been the case, the Flyers started slowly, then rebounded for a strong first period only to lose the lead in the period’s final minute.

They came into play having killed off 15 power plays in a row (it was 17 but the NHL reduced it because of stat changes).

Timonen, who is second on the Flyers in minor penalties this season an unusually-high 13 (seventh in the NHL), picked up a holding call at 1:09 of the first period.

It took the Rangers all of 21 seconds to score with Derek Stepan feeding Callahan for the first of his two goals.

Six minutes later, the Flyers went on their first power play and it resulted in a beauty of a pass from Claude Giroux to Simmonds in the crease to tie it.

“Jake found the seam and passed it to G. I was lucky enough to be wide open back door and G put the puck right on my stick,” Simmonds said.

The game seemed to settle into physical play and forechecking until the final three minutes of the period when, again on the power play, Voracek beat Lundqvist on his own rebound, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead they should have taken into intermission.

Voracek now has 17 points in nine games, as he also picked up an assist on Simmonds' goal.

“We made a couple mistakes and a player like Nash, when he is coming at you full speed, you have to stop him,” Voracek said of the game’s outcome.

The Flyers got a little sloppy with their passing in the final minute of the period. Brayden Schenn’s pass to Simmonds caromed off the boards to Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who dished to Callahan up the ice.

Callahan flew around Luke Schenn, then completely faked out Bryzgalov to tie it.

Bad way to end the period. Even worse, the second period was flat.

“Giving up that goal like that, that was tough late in the period in the first,” Laviolette said. “The second period was minimal chances both ways.

“You’ll never see 48 shots against the Rangers. It’s going to be hard fought. Tough to get your ice and that was the second period.”

Grossmann finished the first period but that was it.

Midway into the second period, Scott Hartnell had a glorious chance to break the tie, unexpectedly getting a puck in the high slot completely alone for a slapper that Lundqvist kicked out with his pad.

“Any time a team scores at the end of a period, it kills momentum a bit,” Giroux said. “We had the lead. It would have been huge for us.

“A couple mistakes in the third … we gotta find a way to win those third-period games.”

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres 4-1
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story). 

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers (16-10-3) vs. Stars (11-11-6)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Remember when it was a fight for the Flyers to simply sew together back-to-back wins?

Prior to this run, they had done it just twice in the first 22 games.

Now, they’re the hottest team in the NHL, winners of seven straight and trying to make it eight on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. The great eight?
Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.

Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher.

These are just some of the players that were wearing Flyers jerseys when the team last won eight consecutive games, back on Jan. 6-19, 2002.

It’s worth mentioning, before the 2004-05 season, winning streaks were a bit more challenging with a tie being the result if overtime went scoreless. The extra session was also not 3-on-3, like it is now.

Still, what the current Flyers are doing is impressive. They’ve gone to the shootout only once over the seven-game spurt and have outscored the opposition by 10 goals, 27-17.

2. Raffl winners
Dave Hakstol has called Michael Raffl a big-bodied, straight-line forward, which is certainly not off the mark.

But from time to time, Raffl will show the deceptive skill side of his game.

He did it Thursday night to win the Flyers’ 6-5 affair over the Oilers in the final minute and a half of regulation for his second game-winner over the last three contests.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," Steve Mason said postgame Thursday (see story). "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl is quietly making teams pay. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in games that he scores a goal. Despite missing eight games because of injury, the 28-year-old Austrian is on pace for around 20 goals.

That’s much-valued secondary scoring and complementary play.

3. Not so bright
Before reeling off seven straight wins, the Flyers were in a similar spot to which the Stars are in now.

Dallas, which finished 50-23-9 last season — best in the Western Conference — after starting 19-5-0, can’t find consistency through 28 games this season. The Stars have won back-to-back games just once thus far and goaltending has been an issue as Dallas is surrendering an NHL-worst 3.18 goals per game.

The Stars do not lack offensive firepower, however. Center Tyler Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), while linemate Jamie Benn isn’t far behind at 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Also, veteran forward Jason Spezza is coming off a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in Dallas’ 5-2 win over the Predators.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ve got to go Jakub Voracek after the winger’s one-goal, three-assist performance on Thursday night. Voracek has been an absolute monster on the seven-game winning streak, posting 11 points with three goals and eight assists for a plus-6 rating.

Stars: It’s hard not to say Seguin, a dynamic player who always gives the Flyers trouble. His 21 career points (nine goals, 12 assists) against the orange and black are his second most versus any team.

5. This and that
• Mason is on a career-best six-game winning streak in which he’s posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, Mason is 9-3-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

• Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is a dreadful 1-10-3 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while backup Antti Niemi is 4-1-0 with 1.48 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

• Dallas has won its last three meetings with the Flyers by a combined score of 7-3.

• The Stars have lost 11 of 15 on the road.

• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games.