Late penalties cost Flyers in Game 1 loss at MSG

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Late penalties cost Flyers in Game 1 loss at MSG

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- It was both unnerving and shocking.

For more than two-thirds of the game, the Flyers had precious few shots, no forecheck, no puck possession and were being badly outskated by the Rangers.

Yet they were dead even on the scoreboard at 1-1.

Then it all blew apart with an accidental high-stick from rookie Jason Akeson and subsequent four-minute power play that saw the Rangers bury the Flyers with two goals en route to an embarrassing 4-1 loss at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 of the playoffs (see Instant Replay). The series continues Sunday at noon.

The Flyers had just 15 shots -- only one in the third period. No shots for Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Kimmo Timonen, Vinny Lecavalier …

Fifteen shots is the fewest in a playoff game since they had 14 against Montreal in a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist all but had the night off.

“Puck possession and shots -- we let them block too many shots in the first period, didn’t get enough through to the net and then I didn’t think we forechecked good enough after that,” coach Craig Berube said.

The Flyers were consistently beaten to the puck and lost whatever battles there were on walls, while the speedier, quicker Rangers had numbers on them all over the ice.

“Not getting the puck in, turning it over, we didn’t have our legs,” Berube said. “I don’t think we skated enough during any of the periods.”

Forechecking is something the Flyers pride themselves as doing very well. How could it have been so awful?

“I don’t think we had good enough support,” Wayne Simmonds suggested. “Our plan was to chip pucks in and as soon as we got pucks in, it seemed like they had three guys to our two. So we got to figure that out.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating. You’re not going to beat Lundqvist with 15 shots, that’s for sure. We got to do a better job next game. That’s why it’s a series. It’s not one game.”

Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said of the lack of forecheck, “We have to get back quicker on pucks, make better plays in the neutral zone and keep our gaps better. Obviously, things are very correctable.”

Incredibly, the Flyers were in the game for so long because of Ray Emery, who faced a barrage of shots (36). The third-period collapse was simply because of two Rangers power-play goals during Akeson’s four-minute high-stick that cut Carl Hagelin (see story).

“Ray played unbelievable,” Simmonds said. “He make the saves when he needed to. He made big saves. They had a four-minute power play there where they kind of stretched us out.

“They got two goals. I don’t think he really had a chance on those. They were crossing passes. He played awesome for us. He played unreal.”

The significant difference between Emery and starter Steve Mason, who is injured, is Emery can’t go post-to-post as quick and that’s what the Rangers did twice that final period when they scored four unanswered goals, including the second power-play goal from Derek Stepan that iced it at 3-1.

“New York is a good team at home and we’re aware of that,” said Giroux, as the Flyers have now lost nine straight here since 2011. “We have to do what we used to do and we’ll be fine. It’s not time to hit the panic button. Only one game.

“We didn’t support each other as well as we wanted to. It’s the first game. We will build on it. We did a lot of good things and a lot of wrong things, too. We’ll be ready for Game 2.”

This was probably a game the Flyers could have stolen, especially after jumping out 1-0 on a goal from MacDonald at 7:28 of the first period off their first shot. MacDonald’s point hit Marty St. Louis’ stick.

Emery had a great second period to keep it 1-1.

“We liked being tied going into third,” Emery said. “We wanted to have a better period.”

Instead, the Flyers accumulated 10 minutes in penalties.

A lot has to change to prevent this group from going back to Philly down 0-2 in the series and not lose a 10th straight game at MSG.

“You’ve got to play better than that, that’s for sure,” Simmonds said. “I think when we try to play simple.

“We got to get numbers. They did a good job tonight in outnumbering us. Ultimately, getting good breakaways. They fly on the rush there. It’s one game.”

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.