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.

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

BOX SCORE

On the surface, this was not a very positive night at the ballpark for the Phillies. They had just four hits and lost, 4-0, to the Washington Nationals in front of the smallest crowd of the season – 16,056, announced – at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
 
But lest we forget, this is a rebuilding season and in a rebuilding season the final score isn’t always paramount. So on an otherwise dark Monday night there was a ray of light for the Phillies.
 
Jake Thompson had the kind of start those who traded for him a year ago and those who watched him pitch this season in Triple A said he was capable of having.
 
“It was great to see,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “That’s just what he needed. He needed a real positive outing. I think this will do wonders for him down the road.”
 
Thompson held the NL East-leading Nationals to two runs over seven innings, his longest of five outings in the majors.
 
“He looked like the pitcher that was advertised,” Mackanin said.
 
Thompson’s first four outings in the majors were poor. He was tagged for 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He walked 13 and struck out 13. Those results were starkly different than his last 11 starts in Triple A. He went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
After watching Thompson for four starts, pitching coach Bob McClure decided to suggest some delivery changes to the 22-year-old right-hander.
 
Players are often receptive to making adjustments when they are struggling. Thompson incorporated the changes McClure suggested and found success Monday night.
 
“We just tried to simplify his delivery so he could make better quality pitches,” McClure said.
 
In his old delivery, Thompson started off facing home plate. He pulled his arms over his head, turned and lifted his front leg before delivering the ball. McClure eliminated many of the moving parts. No more lifting the arms above the head. No more body turn. Thompson started his delivery with his body already turned, like a modified stretch. He simply lifted his leg, let his body go down the slope and fired. The new delivery slowed everything down for him. He looked poised, especially after the first couple of innings, and started attacking hitters with first-pitch strikes like a confident pitcher does.
 
Considering he only worked on the new delivery in two short bullpen sessions Saturday and Sunday in New York, Thompson was a pretty quick study.
 
“It was huge,” he said of the new delivery. “Just on the physical side of things, I’m in a better position to make pitches. I took away some moving parts to make it easier on myself.”
 
Thompson allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out three. All three strikeouts came in his final inning of work. He struck out leadoff man Trea Turner with two men on base with a slider to end the inning.
 
That’s another adjustment McClure made. He had Thompson stop throwing his curveball and focus on his fastball, slider, cutter and changeup.
 
Both of the runs that Thompson allowed came in the first inning on a solo homer by Jayson Werth and an RBI single by Anthony Rondon. After that, Thompson recorded six straight shutout innings. His teammates didn’t support him offensively. Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings. He is 3-0 and has allowed just two runs in 28 innings in four starts against the Phils this season.
 
Thompson needed a start like this for a couple of reasons. First, if he had been pounded again, Phillies officials might have had to consider taking him out of the rotation just so his confidence didn’t get ruined.
 
And second, with Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin out with injuries, the team needed to know something was going right for one of the young pitchers being groomed for the future. Vince Velasquez, another young arm, had three poor outings before pitching well in New York on Sunday.
 
“This will help his confidence a lot,” McClure said.
 
McClure then offered a little glimpse into Thompson’s competitive character.
 
“He seemed pissed that he wasn't pitching well,” McClure said. “But he wasn't deflated. We felt like we should keep starting him because he didn't seem beaten. He seems like a tough kid mentally. We felt like once he started making better quality pitches, he'd get better results.”
 
It happened Monday, a ray of light on an otherwise dark night.

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

The Phillies were beaten, 4-0, by the Washington Nationals on Monday night, but wins and losses don’t matter as much as development in a rebuilding season, so there was a bright spot: Rookie right-hander Jake Thompson finally broke through with a good start in holding the Nats to two runs over seven innings.
 
The Phillies’ offense was not good. It produced just four hits on the night.
 
Washington got all the offense it needed when Jayson Werth, the second batter of the game, homered off Thompson in the first inning.

The Nats lead the NL East at 76-55. The Phils are 60-71.
 
The crowd of 16,056 was the smallest of the season at Citizens Bank Park.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson had struggled in four starts — 9.78 ERA — since arriving from Triple A and there were questions whether he’d even make this start. But he put together a nice outing. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he pitched six straight scoreless innings, finishing his outing with three strikeouts, the last of which came on his 111th pitch when he froze Trea Turner with a breaking ball with two men on base. Thompson allowed seven hits — four in the first three innings — and walked one.
 
Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings to improve to 14-7. He held the Phils to four hits and a walk and struck out five.

Roark is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA (two earned runs in 28 innings) in four starts against the Phillies this season. The Nats are 15-4 in his last 19 starts.

Bullpen report
Frank Herrmann gave up two runs in the ninth.
 
At the plate
Odubel Herrera had two of the Phillies’ four hits.
 
Werth’s homer in the top of the first was his 19th. Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a two-out single in that inning. Clint Robinson and Turner had RBI singles in the ninth to push the Nats’ lead to 4-0.
 
ICYMI
Herrera is staying in center field for the remainder of the season, Pete Mackanin said (see story).
 
Up next
The series continues on Tuesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) pitches against Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92).

Eagles sign Soul DT Jake Metz following workout

Eagles sign Soul DT Jake Metz following workout

Jake Metz has gone from the Soul to the Eagles.

Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski on Monday night tweeted a congratulatory message about the defensive tackle signing with the Eagles.

Metz and Soul wide receiver Darius Reynolds, fresh off an ArenaBowl title last Friday, worked out for the Eagles this afternoon before practice. Metz is the 74th player on the roster, which means the team is still below the next cut line — which is Tuesday at 4 p.m. — of 75. The Eagles' roster has to be at 53 by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3.

Metz, 25, graduated from Souderton Area High School and played his college ball at Shippensburg University. For the Arena Football League champions, Metz posted Soul highs in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (10).