3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers completely unravel in third period and drop Game 1 to Rangers

3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers completely unravel in third period and drop Game 1 to Rangers

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers' 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden through the perspective of two players and one almost invisible unit.

Ugh. That was not fun.

Luckily, it was just the first game of the series and Sunday’s Game 2 is a whole new ballgame with a clean slate.

3. Jason Akeson

Thursday night was Akeson’s first playoff game and third-ever NHL game.

It was going well. He was skating hard, getting some opportunities and taking advantage of his ice time.

That was until he inadvertently high-sticked Rangers winger Carl Hagelin while falling down after missing a check and gave the Rangers a four-minute power play just about halfway through the third period of a tied game.

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Brad Richards and Derek Stepan then scored 47 seconds apart on the ensuing power play to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead and that was all she wrote with how inept the Flyers offense was in the game.

Sure, it wasn’t a good play by Akeson. He was reckless with his stick and paid the ultimate price. But you’re out of your mind if you want to blame just Akeson for the loss. If that’s how you feel, you obviously didn’t watch the rest of the team outside of Ray Emery the entire game.

The Flyers were just awful after Andrew MacDonald’s first-period goal. They played with fire while the game was tied as they let Rangers dominate play. The fact that it was even tied when Akeson took the penalty was a minor miracle.

The kid obviously can’t take that penalty there but don’t place all the blame on him. It was just the tipping point of a terrible Flyers effort. At least he was trying to make a play and make something happen.

There was plenty of blame to go around for this one.

 

2. The Flyers’ offense

The Flyers’ offense?

What Flyers’ offense?

They got the jump on the Rangers with MacDonald’s goal just over seven minutes into the game. But after that they performed a magic trick. They absolutely vanished.

The Rangers finished the game with 35 shots on goal. The Flyers finished the game with a measly 16 shots.

With the game on the line in third period, the Flyers were outshot 13-1. That number is a bit inflated due to the fact they gave the Rangers five third-period power plays (including the double minor) but the fact remains that they came up really small when the game was at its most critical point.

To further illustrate the point, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, arguably the Flyers’ two most dynamic offensive players, each finished the game with zero shots on goal. Zero. That didn’t help the team’s cause.

The thing about the disappearing offense is that it starts in the defensive and neutral zones. Everything was so disorganized.

The Flyers’ breakouts were flat-out ugly in Game 1. They could barely make a pass out of their own zone and tried too many of those cute, low-percentage plays that the Rangers just gobbled up. They could barely skate with the puck in the defensive zone, let alone make a clean pass.

Same thing was true in the neutral zone where the cross-ice passes didn’t even come close to working.

The ice was tilted in the Flyers’ defensive end seemingly the entire night. Emery had no shot or any help on any of the goals he let in. He deserved better.

 

1. Brad Richards

In last year’s playoffs, Richards struggled so mightily that he found himself as a healthy scratch at times.

He did the total opposite of struggle mightily in this year’s playoff opener.

Richards scored the game-winner just over eight minutes into the third period and added two assists for the Rangers on Thursday night.

With the Rangers on that four-minute power play in the third period, a loose puck bounced to a wide-open Richards at the right circle and he blasted it past Emery to give his team a 2-1 lead.

Later on during that same power play, Richards fired a sweet diagonal pass from the point down to Derek Stepan at side of the net and Stepan slammed it home for a 3-1 lead and the nail in the Flyers’ coffin.

Richards later added an assist on Hagelin’s insurance marker.

On a night when the Rangers dominated, Richards was their best player.

 

The Flyers have to totally forget about this one. It happened. It’s in the past now.

The great thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that a team gets a chance to redeem itself against the same team that just dominated it a night or two before. There are two days to make the necessary adjustments and there are a lot of adjustments to be made, as you may have been able to tell after watching Game 1.

Puck drops for Game 2 on Sunday at Noon in New York.

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dave Hakstol likes Wayne Simmonds’ net-front play more than that of any player in the league.

The Flyers' power forward showed on Sunday why his coach thinks that way.

Simmonds’ two power-play goals in front of the crease helped extend the Flyers’ win streak to five, their longest of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night (see Instant Replay).

“If there’s a better guy in the league at net front, whether it’s on power play or 5 on 5, I don’t know who that is,” said Hakstol said after Sunday's victory. “He did a great job there tonight.”

Simmonds’ first goal came when he deflected Jake Voracek’s shot past Juuse Saros, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 18:12 of the first period.

“They had great movement around the top of the box and Jake told me to go back door if he was going to get it for a one-timer,” Simmonds said. “So I stuck my stick out back door and he hit it, and it went in the net.”

Then Simmonds batted a puck through Saros' legs for a 2-1 advantage at 6:47 of the second period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

“It was kind of a little bit of a cluster and the puck comes to me, and I’m alone in front of the net so I just put it five-hole and it worked,” Simmonds said.

The right wing’s father was watching in the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena during the Flyers' annual father-son trip.

“It was nice, obviously,” Simmonds said. “I just went outside and saw him. He didn’t really say much to me, but I know he’s glowing on the inside.”

Simmonds has now scored 10 career goals in 20 games against Nashville.

“What I really like about Simmer is he’s at net-front, he’s scoring goals, he’s on the power play, but he’s a great, hard-nosed, 200-foot player,” Hakstol said.

Simmonds’ goals gave the Flyers an early spark on Sunday.

“It was huge,” said Flyers left wing Michael Raffl, who scored the winning goal at 16:37 of the second period when made a power move on a rush and tucked the puck past Saros. “That gives us all the momentum.”

The Flyers improved to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

“We’re just trying to take care of pucks and maintain the pressure that we have,” Simmonds said. “The next shift up every game is the most important shift and that’s how we’re trying to play it here.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette, a former Flyers coach, wasn’t surprised by his former team’s power-play success. The Flyers entered the game tied for the third best power play in the league cashed in twice on seven chances on Sunday.

“We knew going in that their power play was really good,” Laviolette said. “Their players have a lot of time together and cohesiveness and they’re pretty set in what they do. They bring pucks to the net and when they do that, things can happen. That was a difference in the game tonight.”

Winning goalie Steve Mason has started 10 of the last 11 games. He made 30 saves Sunday to improve his record to 8-8-3.

“This is the situation I want to be in, so it’s a workload that all summer you prepare for even when I was not getting the work load I wanted,” Mason said. “You prepare for it and now that it’s here I’m making the most of it.”

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

WASHINGTON – It looks as if the Phillies will have some action at the winter meetings.

The team is close to signing veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, sources tell CSNPhilly.com. The winter meetings officially begin on Monday. The signing is expected to be announced before the meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, is a veteran of 15 seasons in the majors. He is coming off a strong 2016 season in which he pitched in 51 games for Seattle and Toronto and recorded a 2.81 ERA.

Benoit, a right-hander, has pitched for six teams in his career and has a lifetime ERA of 3.79 in 712 games.

Entering the offseason, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he wanted to improve the bullpen. He opened the offseason by trading for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and last week claimed lefty David Rollins off waivers from Texas. Now, Klentak is poised to add Benoit.

Benoit has pitched mostly in a setup role in his career, but he does have closer experience. It is unclear what role he’d pitch in for the Phillies. The Phils have Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris returning to the back of their bullpen in 2017. Benoit could complement that pair or the Phillies could chose to trade Gomez or Neris. Neris pitched in 79 games in 2016 and had a 2.58 ERA, so the Phillies would only deal him if they were to get a strong package of talent in return.