Flyers open crucial week with loss to Rangers

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Flyers open crucial week with loss to Rangers

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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.”

Flyers clash with Penguins in cheapest outdoor game this season

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Flyers clash with Penguins in cheapest outdoor game this season

Editor's note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

Attending this year’s Stadium Series game won’t come at much of a cost for fans at Heinz Field.

With the Penguins set to host the Flyers in the 68,000-plus seat stadium on Saturday, tickets are the cheapest of all three outdoor games this season. On TicketIQ, CSN Philly’s official ticketing partner, Penguins vs. Flyers Stadium Series tickets now average $202.

Saturday’s game is considerably cheaper than the Centennial Classic and Winter Classic, which were held in Toronto and St. Louis last month, respectively. The Winter Classic between the Blues and Blackhawks averaged a $632 ticket while the Maple Leafs and Red Wings’ Centennial Classic posted a $299 average.

As it stands now, this weekend’s game owns the third lowest average for a Stadium Series game in the last four years, trumped only by a 2016 game between the Wild and Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, which owned an overall average of $160. It is the cheapest two-day-out average that any game has posted, however, inching past a 2015 game between the Sharks and Kings ($203) for that title.

Only a 2014 Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Islanders owned a lower get-in price ($45) two days out than Saturday’s game at Heinz Field. Penguins vs. Flyers tickets currently start from $67 each in the 500 sections.

The Flyers will play in their first Stadium Series game since the format was created in 2014. It will be their third overall outdoor game after 2010’s Winter Classic at Fenway Park and 2012’s Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

The game comes at a crucial time for the Flyers, who remain on the cusp of a playoff spot in a crowded Eastern Conference. As of Thursday afternoon, they sit just three points removed from the second wild-card spot. Some pushing and shoving will occur over the next two months, however, as several other teams fight for that last playoff berth.

The Penguins play host to their second outdoor game at Heinz Field following 2011’s Winter Classic against the Capitals. It will be the reigning Stanley Cup champions’ fourth outdoor game since 2008. They enter Saturday owners of the second seed in the Metropolitan division behind the league-best Capitals with 82 points in tow.

 

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”