Rangers faced with even more issues than Flyers

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Rangers faced with even more issues than Flyers

Who would have thought that both the Flyers and Rangers would be in the tank this early in the season?
 
As bad as things have been in South Philly, it’s been even worse up on Broadway, even though the Rangers have been seeded ahead of the Flyers.
 
While both of these clubs are starved for goals, the Rangers have been starved for bodies to replace key players:

• Carl Hagelin has been out since last offseason’s shoulder surgery.  

• Rick Nash has been out with a concussion that led to San Jose’s Brad Stuart being suspended. 

• Ryan Callahan’s been out with a broken thumb.

• Henrik Lundqvist has been out with a mysterious minor injury that forced head coach Alain Vigneault to use Cam Talbot in his NHL debut against the Flyers.
 
And that is just the tip of the iceberg that has sunk the Rangers thus far, including their 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Thursday (see game recap).
 
Lundqvist has always been a slow starter. His 3.45 goals-against and .890 save percentage are horrific, but in the past he was able to manage because the Rangers' defense saved him. Not in October.

Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been brutal -- a combined minus-11 on the ice. Marc Staal? He’s minus-8.
 
With the Rangers' defense having a rough go of it under a new coaching staff and system, there hasn’t been much margin for error in goal.
 
Yet the bottom line is, when you’re missing a Hagelin, Nash and Callahan, you’re missing a sizeable portion of offense, and the Rangers’ roster -- very much like the Flyers -- isn’t deep enough with suitable offensive replacements.
 
Without Nash and Callahan, the team has had to pull back.
 
“We have to play closer to the vest -- there is no doubt about that,” Vigneault said. “In Jersey, we gave that team just eight scoring chances. That’s two games in a row, as far as scoring chances to the other team, where we played well.
 
“But we had no push. When we got down, we did not have a strong enough pushback offensively. With those guys out, you have to play closer to the vest in certain areas.”
 
Translation: You play conservatively, stress defense and avoid getting your defense caught pinching at the other end.
 
Yet there’s even more to this ugly picture and it has to do with their venue, Madison Square Garden.
 
The final phase of the Garden’s three-year, $1 billion renovation forced the Rangers to start the season playing their entire preseason on the road, plus the first nine games of the regular season.
 
General manager Glen Sather decided to host training camp in Banff, Alberta, where he owns an offseason home.
 
From there, the Rangers hit Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Las Vegas with four exhibition games in five nights, then boarded their chartered flight home for a few days before heading West again to open the regular season in Phoenix.
 
All that crammed travel left the club fatigued coming out of the gate. Again, all of this, so that The Garden could be completed.
 
And it irked many of the players, as well, who had their personal lives greatly disrupted and still haven't been with their families.
 
“It’s been mentioned, it’s been talked about,” Vigneault said. “At the end of the day, it was the training camp that we were dealt with. The schedule we were dealt.
 
“We tried to handle it the best we could. Obviously, we didn’t get results we expected. We had three good days of practice this week to get ready.”
 
Western clubs handle travel better than Eastern teams and have to go West to East far more than Eastern clubs go East to West. Vigneault knows that first hand from his seven years coaching Vancouver.
 
“That would be an easy excuse,” he said. “Traveling is traveling. We travel in a first-class environment. I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
 
It’s not the total picture, but stacked with everything else, it’s a significant factor as to why the Rangers have looked bad early in the NHL schedule.
 
The only comfort for Flyers fans has been that, outside of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Metropolitan Division isn’t very good. In fact, a large portion of the division right now is mediocre.
 
Which gives both the Flyers and Rangers a chance to claw their way up the standings ladder.
 
Whether the top rung reaches into the playoffs, however, is another story.

10 Flyers-Devils observations: Travis Konecny impresses

10 Flyers-Devils observations: Travis Konecny impresses

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers on Wednesday night took to the PPL Center — home of the AHL affiliate Phantoms — to give fans an early glimpse of the organization’s young talent, much of which will play on a nightly basis in Lehigh Valley.

One player that may reach Philadelphia before he ever lands in Lehigh Valley did not disappoint as the evening’s main attraction.

In his quest to make the Flyers’ roster at 19 years old, heralded prospect Travis Konecny scored a goal and tallied an assist to lead the orange and black past the Devils, 2-0, in their fourth preseason game, improving to 2-2.

Let’s dive into the action with 10 observations from the game:

1. We start with who else? Konecny. Head coach Dave Hakstol paired the talented winger with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, two of the few NHLers to suit up Wednesday. Konecny jumped all over the opportunity, deflecting an Andrew MacDonald shot for a goal 4:30 into the second period. Just shy of five minutes after, he delivered a pretty touch pass to Raffl in front for a 2-0 lead. Konecny just narrowly missed adding another goal and assist, as well, later in the stanza. You know when he’s on the ice because you’ll see bursts of unmatched speed. 

The 5-foot-10, 184-pounder is incredibly shifty with the puck and adept at avoiding contact. At times, he’ll get pushed around when a bigger body squares him up, but he makes up for it with his elusiveness. The 2015 first-round pick sure played the part of an NHL player ready to contribute to a team in need of playmaking.

2. Samuel Morin is a big boy. The 6-foot-7 defenseman really utilizes his tall frame and upper-body strength when battling along the boards. Obviously he needs to work on his skating and puck handling, but he has the size and makeup to compete.

3. Goalies Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon will duke it out for playing time in Lehigh Valley. It’s an impressive tandem. Both combined for the shutout. Stolarz, 6-foot-6, made eight saves in the opening period and 11 total over 29:23. He showed good quickness and instincts. Lyon, not so big at 6-foot-1, is sound and holds records for his time at Yale. He converted seven saves. It’s a duo worth keeping tabs on throughout the season.

4. Forward Colin McDonald will be a nice safety net for the Flyers if they ever need a body willing to bring nothing but physicality. He made loud, impactful hits and had a fight — albeit a short and weak one — early in the first period.

5. Defenseman Mark Alt lost a fight quickly in the second period. He may have lost his balance, but he went down hard. Alt appeared fine when he got up. However, he never returned to the game.

6. The Flyers killed two power plays on the night. The PK continued to show more aggressiveness and disruptiveness on the puck carrier, which wasn’t always the case last season. It’s a big reason the Flyers fell in such a big hole against the Capitals during the playoffs. So far this preseason, the Flyers are 16 for 17 on the penalty kill.

7. Along with Schenn, Raffl and MacDonald, other Flyers to play were Boyd Gordon and Chris VandeVelde, who handled themselves well, as expected. Defensive prospect Robert Hagg had an assist, as did Schenn and MacDonald.

8. Keith Kinkaid was in net for the Devils. He’s expected to be New Jersey’s backup netminder. The 27-year-old is 15-14-5 in his career with a 2.71 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Not crazy stuff, but still a goalie with NHL experience. However …

9. The Devils visit the Rangers Thursday night, so they too deployed a fair share of prospects, resulting in Kinkaid without a ton of help.

10. The PPL Center is a beautiful venue and should be a hot-spot for Flyers fans throughout the 2016-17 season. The trip is doable, parking is accessible and cheap and the arena doesn’t sport a bad seat. The Phantoms should be fun with added experience and talent.

Radko Gudas shooting pucks, 'pretty close' to 100 percent

Radko Gudas shooting pucks, 'pretty close' to 100 percent

VOORHEES, N.J. — Injured Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas is getting closer to returning to game action.

Gudas, recovering from a fractured right wrist (his shooting hand), has been cleared to shoot pucks for the past couple of days and was shooting and hitting in practice Wednesday at Flyers Skate Zone. He has yet to play in a preseason game but said he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent.
 
“I can’t say it’s really 100 percent, but it’s getting there soon,” Gudas said following practice.
 
“There’s a lot of time for me to get in top, game-like shape. There’s not a chance I would miss the start of the season.”
 
Gudas said the most important aspect of the healing process is keeping his wrist stable by wearing a brace to limit too much movement.
 
“It’s better. I’m shooting on it in practice — feels better every day,” he said. “I’m working on a lot of it every day with the strength guys and the doctors here. We’re going day to day, I’m seeing myself sooner than later jumping on the ice.”
 
The second-year Flyer would like to play in preseason games before the start of the regular season but also understands the importance of not rushing to avoid costing him regular-season games.
 
“That’s the main part — feeling pain-free,” Gudas said. “Throughout the season, there’s not a lot of time off so we need to make sure everything is the best it can be before the season starts.
 
“Obviously it’s going to be the coaches’ decision when to put me in. I’m sure they’re talking with the staff for when would be the proper time.”
 
The 26-year-old Gudas signed a four-year contract extension in June after playing a career-high 76 games and recording 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 2015-16.
 
After practice, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol did not have an update on Gudas or defenseman Nick Schultz, who was shaken up Tuesday night. The Flyers announced prior to Wednesday's preseason game that Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury.

As for Gudas himself ...
 
“Everybody wants to play at least a game or two before the season,” Gudas said. “I don’t think it needs to be said.
 
“[Hakstol] wants to have me ready and I want to be ready.”