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Lundqvist stellar as Rangers take down the Flyers; New defense pairings work well

Bobby Bevilacqua

kevin-hayes-goal-celebration-1-4

After an awful game against the Sabres yesterday, the Rangers (27-13-1) took down the Philadelphia Flyers (20-15-5) with one of their best all-around efforts this season, getting some stellar goalkeeping from Henrik Lundqvist, an offensive outburst and great defense and forechecking that led to the 5-2 victory.

The Rangers looked absolutely nonexistent and asleep against the Sabres, but the effort was there tonight. Everyone was playing with an edge and also making smart, decisive plays and creating chances while effectively shutting down Philadelphia for most of the game.

This marked the fifth straight game the Rangers beat the Flyers, and it was also their 21st win in the last 28 games against Philadelphia. The Rangers also secured their league-leading 14th road win of the season, and they are now 7-0-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.The first period was pretty even, with both teams getting a good amount of chances, having their opportunities in the other team’s zone, and each getting a power play. The Rangers finished with a 9-8 edge in shots on goal, but the Flyers had the advantage in high quality chances.

The start for the Rangers was miles better than yesterday’s game, coming out with a lot more intensity and working hard on maintaining possession and generating shots on goal. Marek Hrivik’s line with Nicklas Jensen and Brandon Pirri had some good shifts, as well as some good chances from Jimmy Vesey.

The Rangers wound up drawing a hooking call, but had the power play denied after Ryan McDonagh gave up a shorthanded breakaway to Wayne Simmonds and slashed him on the play. Henrik Lundqvist made a phenomenal save on that chance, and stood on his head on the Flyers’ man advantage. He made three or four tremendous stops with the pads, stopping one timers and stuff-in chances to keep the game scoreless after the first period.

Henrik Lundqvist carried over his success into the second period, where he made another 12 saves including some absolute beauties. His best save came against Brayden Schenn, making one great save with his glove on a wrist shot, and then sprawling to stop the rebound chance. His brilliant play was the main reason why the Flyers were off the board.

The Rangers got on the board early as Kevin Hayes snapped a 12 game goalless drought with his 12th goal of the season. Michael Grabner made a nifty pass from the boards and hit Hayes in stride. He muscled off his defender before taking the puck from his backhand, to the forehand and firing it past Mason for the first goal of the game.

Minutes later, Mats Zuccarello almost picked up a goal of his own, deflecting a pass off of the goal post. The Rangers defense did a good job in this period, never allowing the Flyers to get settled for extended periods of time and doing a much better job making the first pass out of the zone.

The strong defense was relevant in the second period, with captain Ryan McDonagh making a few notable plays to break up scoring chances. The defense from the Rangers was so much better this game, allowing just two scoring chances in the first 17 minutes of the final period. The new pairings, with Marc Staal out with an injury, worked very well. McDonagh and Brady Skjei were excellent together and played off of each other’s strengths, Clendening and Klein mostly stayed out of trouble, and Nick Holden really worked wonders with Dan Girardi. Girardi looked good by himself too, but the two worked well together.

A few minutes later, the Rangers made sure to break through early with their second goal of the game, and another from Chris Kreider. Derek Stepan carried the puck through the zone, faked the play going one direction before hitting Krieder with a perfect backhand pass. Kreider managed to shoot the puck past the skates and sticks of two defenseman and past Mason for his 16th goal of the season.

The Rangers continued to pour on the offense in the third period and it was a product of their good defensive play and forechecking. After forcing a turnover in the neutral zone, Dan Girardi sent JT Miller a great pass, and he quickly sent it over to Michael Grabner for the wide open goal. That play extended Miller’s point streak to four games.

Less than 90 seconds later, the Flyers would end Lundqvist’s shutout bid with a goal on the power play. After Derek Stepan was sent to the box for high sticking, Jakub Voracek scored a freak goal by banking the puck in off of the skate of Ryan McDonagh. But the Rangers wouldn’t let the momentum swing, and Kevin Hayes put the game away with his second goal of the game. The Flyers nearly scored but missed a redirection, causing the puck to bounce out of the zone and to JT Miller. He sent Kevin Hayes on an odd man rush, but Hayes took the shot himself and beat Mason short side for the 4-1 Rangers lead.

Voracek would score again about three minutes later, with the Flyers winning another faceoff and converting right away. A pass from Michael Raffl was blasted on a one timer and beat Hank glove high.

But Grabner would put the game away for good this time, scoring an empty netter for his second goal of the game and his 16th season. He made an excellent read off of the Flyers faceoff win, pressuring the defenseman Provorov and forcing the bouncing puck away from him before scoring, and sealing a 5-2 Rangers win.

Overall, this was one of the best defensive and forechecking efforts from the Rangers. They shut down the Flyers from the neutral zone for the first 17 minutes of the final period, and they pressured the Flyers puck-carrier all night long. The aggressive playstyle created scoring chances or forced the Flyers into mistakes, and it was a successful tactic for Alain Vigneault.

Chris Kreider continued to score goals, but Kevin Hayes was the real story tonight (outside of Lundqvist). He broke a goal drought but had been playing very good hockey all season long. His two goals gave him 13 for the season, on pace for 26. He also is on pace for a 60 point season, and is proving that he is a top six forward and even a first or second line center. His skill is remarkable, he’s improving in all areas of his game and playing meaningful minutes on the penalty kill, and he’s been a big reason why the Rangers have survived without Mika Zibanejad.

Henrik Lundqvist was stellar, making countless impressive saves in the first two periods that allowed the Rangers to have a lead and build up momentum. He continues to be the backbone of this Rangers team and simply put, when he is at his best, so are the Rangers.

The Rangers face the streaking Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, who have a 16 game winning streak at the time of this article being published.

THREE STARS

1) Henrik Lundqvist – 30 SV, .938 SV%

2) Kevin Hayes – 2 G, +3, 3 SOG, 15:56 TOT

3) JT Miller – 2 A, +2, 16:55 TOT

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Posted on January 5, 2017, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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