Getting to know the enemy: Four under-the-radar Rangers the Flyers have to keep in check

Getting to know the enemy: Four under-the-radar Rangers the Flyers have to keep in check

Leading into Game 1 tonight between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, here’s a look at four under-the-radar Rangers – ok, well, three players and one inanimate object – that the Flyers will have to keep in check in order to ensure success in the series.

You won’t see star goalie Henrik Lundqvist or star winger Rick Nash on this list because it’s fairly obvious that the Flyers will have to get in Lundqvist’s face in the crease and not let Nash take over on the offensive end.

Winger Mats Zuccarello

Take a wild guess at who led the Rangers in points over the course of the regular season. You would have never guessed the diminutive Norwegian winger, would you?

Zuccarello’s 59 points – 19 goals and 40 assists – in 77 games paced a balanced Rangers attack during the regular season.

He’s a versatile player that can play on almost any line and find success. He’s a shifty puck handler with a knack for setting up his teammates from his wing position.

Zuccarello sees regular time on both of the Rangers’ special team units. His four power-play goals tied him for third on a Rangers team that finished with a middle-of-the-pack power play but was much more dangerous before a late-season slump. He also had one of the Rangers’ 10 shorthanded goals, third-most in the league. That penalty kill finished as the fourth-best penalty kill in the NHL.

If you’re looking for a familiar comparable, think Flyers winger Matt Read, except that Read is more of a pure scorer whereas Zuccarello is more of a facilitator. Both can play on any line and both can play well at either end of the ice.

Zuccarello is expected to be on the Rangers’ second line with fellow winger Benoit Puliot and center Derick Brassard.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh

You may remember McDonagh from the Sochi Olympic tournament where he was arguably the Americans’ best defenseman.

He hasn’t been arguably the Rangers’ best defenseman all year long. He’s without a doubt been the Rangers’ best defenseman all year long. And he won’t be under-the-radar to Flyers fans for long.

The 24-year-old, two-way defenseman has enjoyed a breakout season on the Rangers’ top defensive pairing alongside Dan Girardi. He’s been tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best player night in and night out and has excelled. You may remember the last meeting between the Flyers and Rangers when he smothered Claude Giroux the entire night and helped force Giroux into one of his worst games of the season.

McDonagh also scored 14 goals and posted 29 assists during the regular season so he’s more than capable of getting the job done at both ends of the ice.

But keeping McDonagh in check isn’t about him putting up offensive numbers in this series. It’s about keeping him away from Giroux as much as possible.

It will be tough to do at MSG since the Rangers get the last change, but Flyers head coach Craig Berube has to play the matchup game as much as he can to keep Giroux away from McDonagh.

Those two going at one another might be the key matchup of the series.

One thing to remember is McDonagh missed recent games with a shoulder injury so the Flyers should target him physically and find out if he really is 100 percent.

Winger Marty St. Louis

Really? St. Louis is an under-the-radar player?

For his career, not at all. He’s s star player. There are a multitude of reasons he has accolades such as a Hart Trophy for league MVP, two Art Ross Trophies for most points in a season and a Stanley Cup.

All those came when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to this season’s trade deadline.

Since coming to the Rangers at the trade deadline in exchange for then-Ranger captain Ryan Callahan and draft picks, St. Louis has been underwhelming in 19 games with the Blueshirts. In those 19 games, St. Louis has just a single goal and seven assists.

But don’t sleep on St. Louis come playoff time.

For his playoff career, he’s at an over a point-per-game clip with 68 points – 33 goals and 35 assists – in 63 career playoff games.

This is the time of year where veteran guys like St. Louis shine.

At 38-years-old, he’s still incredibly dangerous and even more so on the Rangers’ top line with Nash and Derek Stepan.

Forget about his numbers during the regular season with the Rangers. It’s a brand new slate now.

Madison Square Garden’s Ice

Madison Square Garden is known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for a ton of reasons.

Assuredly, one of those reasons is not its ice surface.

The Garden is notorious around the NHL for having one of the league’s worst ice surfaces. It’s known to wear down rather quickly and create awful puck bounces and overall sloppy play.

And that’s even with the crazy, billion-dollar renovations that have been done there.

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur ripped the Garden’s ice surface during the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, saying it wasn’t very good. He also complained about the boards and the glass at MSG.

The Garden’s ice is what it is. It can’t be changed.

The Flyers have to be prepared for those kooky puck bounces and the effects they can cause. That means there will be an onus on better passing and crisp puck movement.

 

The time for talking ends in just a few hours. Puck drops at 7 p.m. tonight on CSN. It will also be on CNBC for those of you outside the local Philly viewing area.

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego -- 6.19 -- and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games -- five losses -- and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings (see story). Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We’re better than this. I know we’re better than this. We’ve just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it’s something we’ve got to do. Today wasn’t too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice ground ball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It’s hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it’s all because we’re missing good pitches to hit. We’re getting pitches to hit and we’re not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We’re trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it’s tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We’re just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."