Some weird stuff happened in the lead-up to tonight's game. Following news from the team yesterday that Claude Giroux would miss a couple of games with a lower-body injury, things weren't looking good for the Flyers' odds at ending their chances. And then some more weird news came out, we learned that Giroux may play after all, and next thing you know, Claude Giroux is not only in the lineup, he's playing almost 26 minutes of ice time (by far a season high for him).
So when I saw that our favorite redhead was unexpectedly in the lineup, I felt good about this game. Realistically as good as I could feel about a Flyers game in Madison Square Garden.
That was silly of me.
The Flyers went down early on a second-chance goal in the first period by Kevin Klein, saw the deficit extended to two on a Rick Nash power play goal (surprise!), and never managed to light up the scoreboard en route to a 2-0 loss. Cam Talbot picked up his fourth NHL shutout, though with all due respect to his strong showing, he didn't have to do much worth noting until the final few minutes of the game when the Flyers had an extra attacker.
And as has too often been the case since November 2011, the Flyers simply looked lost throughout the contest. In all three zones, completing a pass from one guy to another proved to be excruciatingly difficult. Every time the Rangers got the puck moving up-ice, you just sort of got a sinking feeling that something bad was about to happen. And good goaltending -- not even from Henrik Lundqvist, but from his backup -- shut down the minimal chances the Flyers did have, while the strong effort the Flyers got in net was just wasted due to the poor show in front of it.
It was the same show we've watched for too long now. I don't know what the deal is. I don't think the answer is "TRY HARDER" -- more on that in a bit. But whatever it is, I think we're all sick of it. Games like tonight have become the norm whenever the Flyers go to New York City, and everyone's sick of it. And by "everyone" ...
Ron Hextall can be heard screaming from changing room. "That's f---ing embarrassing! Jesus f---ing Christ!" and slammed door.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) November 20, 2014
... I mean everyone.
* Steve Mason was, far and away, the best player wearing orange tonight, as he made several big saves during the Rangers' numerous offensive onslaughts. A bit of a given when your team doesn't score any goals, but it's hard to pin really any of this outcome on him at all. His worst moment of the night was in the waning moments of the second period, when he had to be helped back up after being hit behind the net ... by his own teammate, Braydon Coburn. That kind of night for the Flyers.
* Results-wise, it was a bit better of a night for the Flyers' penalty kill, which managed to escape the ice unscathed on three out of its four appearances tonight. Obviously, on that front, it's an improvement over the previous two games, in which it killed just one out of seven penalties. Still, though, something pretty clearly seems to be off for the unit that was a strength of this team for so many years. They were absolutely carved up by the Rangers' passing on the one goal, and even on the ones they killed, those weren't as much a product of good shot suppression and limiting chances as they were strong play by Steve Mason. If the Flyers are going to take penalties the way they do, the penalty kill just has to be better.
In particular, may I suggest breaking up Coburn (who's been on the ice for all seven shorthanded goals over the last three games) and Nicklas Grossmann (on the ice for six out of those same seven) as a pairing on the top PK unit? It seems clear that they just aren't working well together.
* Scott Laughton's season debut was rather uneventful. He played just 7:00 of ice time, almost exclusively alongside Zac Rinaldo and Chris VandeVelde. He was also called for a phantom tripping penalty in the third period (seconds after what appeared to be an actual penalty on Nick Schultz that went uncalled). It's up to Berube how much ice time his players get, but I can't help but think that this isn't quite what Ron Hextall had in mind when he called up his top forward prospect last night. There's a threshold beyond which Laughton is better served by playing at the NHL, but I don't think 7 minutes is that threshold. Would be nice to see him either get more ice time or get him sent back to the AHL.
* As has been the case in a rather large percentage of this team's game, the majority of the Flyers' offensive pressure came with the top line on the ice. Giroux (25:45 of ice time!), Brayden Schenn (24:44), and Jakub Voracek (23:53) were the team's best forwards, as they all posted strong possession numbers and I can't remember more than a couple of offensive chances that came without them on the ice. Good to see them still generating pressure (even if Voracek's point streak came to an end tonight). Bad to see that everyone else is still struggling to do much of anything at all.
* I want to stop talking about this game, so this thing that I really need to say is my last point: Before tonight, the Flyers had lost eight straight regular-season road games to this Rangers team, none of which were particularly close. They were eliminated by this Rangers team in the playoffs seven months ago, and then had to watch them make it all the way to the Finals. This is a Rangers team that has been one of the Flyers' biggest rivals for decades.
Which is basically to say: can we stop with things like "the Flyers don't play with passion against the Rangers"? They've been getting embarrassed in these games for years now. Everyone in that locker room wants nothing more than to beat the stuffing out of these guys. I can't tell you why they've failed to do so nine times in a row. It's probably due to a combination of tactical mismatches, bad luck, and yes, maybe a bit of a mental block that's developed. But the Flyers didn't lose this game because they don't care or aren't trying. When it's pre-game next Saturday when these teams meet in NYC again, there'll be a lot more that the Flyers will need to be discussing than just "try harder than we did 10 days ago," that's for sure.
* Wait. One more thing. Housekeeping note: Michael Del Zotto left the game after his first shift in the third period following a collision with Dan Girardi. He did not return. He is reportedly questionable for tomorrow's game with a lower-body injury, so if I learned anything from today's proceedings, he's either going to play 25 minutes tomorrow or his leg is going to fall off.
COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
Man, Laughton does not look NHL ready. Wait, I meant Umberger. Umberger does not look NHL ready.
Minnesota tomorrow night back at home. Lindros and LeClair night. Happier thoughts. Go Flyers.