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.

With increased workload, Steve Mason settling in as unquestioned No. 1 goalie

With increased workload, Steve Mason settling in as unquestioned No. 1 goalie

As Steve Mason has gone recently, the Flyers have gone right with him.

That theme held true in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers, as the Flyers extended their winning streak to six games on the back of a 42-save performance from Mason.

For Mason, it was not only his fifth consecutive win, which equals a career high, but also the fifth straight game that he’s surrendered no more than two goals.

"Biggest thing is the saves we got, no doubt about that,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought Mase, it was one of those nights where he was our best player."

"He's been amazing,” Jakub Voracek said. “He's had a lot of streaks like this through his career. Last five, six games, he's been outstanding. Last year he pushed us to the playoffs, he was outstanding. When he got traded here, he was outstanding. It's good to see him play like that."

"Mase was the difference tonight,” Wayne Simmonds said.

On a night where the Flyers’ overall play could be best described as sloppy, Mason was sharp from the opening puck drop.

Despite facing of barrage of shots early, Mason was locked in, stopping 14 of the whopping 15 shots he faced in the first period. The only blemish on his opening period record was a goal from the slot area off the stick of Aleksander Barkov, who beat Mason to his short side on a perfect cross-ice feed from Mark Pysyk.

After the Flyers rebounded with a cleaner second period to take a 2-1 lead, Mason was forced to stand on his head for the final 20 minutes of regulation. The Panthers dominated puck possession yet again in the third, outshooting the Flyers, 17-4, and tying the game at two with just under five minutes remaining.  

"It was a game where you had to come up with big saves,” Mason said. “We spent a lot of time in our own end. It was good to come up with two points, but I think we all understand we have to be better."

While Jussi Jokinen, who was unaccounted for on a Florida rush, tallied the equalizer late in the third period, the Flyers were lucky that wasn’t the go-ahead goal thanks to a highlight-reel save by Mason earlier in the period.

An Aaron Ekblad shot from the point hit a screened Mason in the shoulder and bounced right onto the stick of Jokinen, who went around Mason and shot the puck on an open net.

But Mason made a last-ditch effort and dove at the puck, just getting his glove on it to protect the Flyers’ lead and cap off a spectacular save

"The original shot came through cross body and hit me in the shoulder so I didn't pick that up initially through the screens,” Mason said “Went down to my right there and just made a desperation attempt to get anything on it and fortunately I was able to get the glove on it.

“They had their chances. We were able to come through when we had to. Simmer comes up with some key goals again. At the end of the day we have to be better. The first period we weren't good enough, the second was a little bit better, but then again in the third we have to be better overall."

Mason began the season as a part of a goalie tandem with Michal Neuvirth. Neither goalie got off to a hot enough start to put a claim on the position, but Mason was trusted into the No. 1 role after Nuevirth went down with a lower-body injury against the Wild on Nov. 12.

Through his first 10 games prior to Nuevirth’s injury, Mason was stopping just 87.4 percent of the shots fired his way, while allowing an average three goals per outing.

Since then, Mason’s made 11 of a possible 12 starts and his increase in workload has coincided with his turnaround, boasting a .929 save percentage since becoming the consistent starter. During his current five-game winning streak, the 28-year-old carries a .947 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average. 

And Mason getting hot at the same time he’s back as the Flyers’ unquestioned starting goaltender isn’t any coincidence either.

"You do read things at a higher level and that's something that you always work for,” Mason said of the increased workload. “To be reading plays and kind of reading things before they happen. It all goes back to practicing and working hard. You work hard sometimes you get rewarded for it.
 
“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey. This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever Hak calls my name be ready."

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

NEW YORK -- Andrew Ladd scored in the second period and Jaroslav Halak stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the crosstown-rival Rangers on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, Jason Chimera and Scott Mayfield also scored at the Barclays Center to help the last-place Islanders improve to 4-0-1 in their last five games.

Jimmy Vesey and Marc Staal scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 28 saves. The Rangers have alternated wins and losses in regulation in their last eight games.

Halak beat Lundqvist for the ninth time in their last 10 matchups. Halak had won eight straight -- including the last five after joining the Islanders before the 2014-15 season -- before Lundqvist ended the streak in the Rangers' 5-3 win in the season opener Oct. 13 at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist is now 1-6-1 in his last eight against the Islanders (see full recap).

Schwartz lifts Blues over Canadiens in OT
ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz got his second goal of the game in overtime, leading the St. Louis Blues to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.

Paul Stastny also scored for St. Louis, which has won four of five. The Blues rallied from a 2-0 deficit and have a point in their last 13 home games.

Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron scored for Montreal, which completed a five-game trip 2-3.

Goalie Jake Allen made 28 saves to improve to 13-3-3.

Schwartz lifted a backhander past goalie Al Montoya with 1:22 left in overtime.

Stastny and Schwartz scored in a 2:51 span in the third period to tie it at 2 (see full recap).

Blackhawks blank Coyotes to snap modest skid
CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa had two goals, Scott Darling made 22 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0 on Tuesday night to snap a two-game slide.

Artem Anisimov and Dennis Rasmussen also scored to help Chicago maintain a three-point lead over St. Louis in the Central Division.

Darling made a handful of tough stops but wasn't heavily tested in his first shutout this season and third of his career. He started his third straight game in place of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

The 37-year-old Hossa scored his team-leading 13th and 14th goals in his 27th game -- surpassing his total of 13 last season in 64 contests (see full recap).