Rangers 3, Flyers 2 (SO)
The Flyers fell to the Rangers in more than one way Thursday night, but the defeat wasn’t for a lack effort. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Considering the forward core was basically half Phantoms, I’ll take it. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 3-2, shootout style to the New York Rangers. Their first game in almost two weeks due to a COVID outbreak doesn’t end the way we wanted it. But despite a decimated forward core, the Flyers hung tough, won the shot attempts battle at 5-on-5, and emerged with a point for their troubles.

No matter the outcome, it was really nice to be able to watch the Flyers play a hockey game. We all learned not to take sports for granted during the early months of this pandemic. But losing the Flyers for the last eleven days obviously isn’t what anyone had in mind. A close-contact situation for Travis Sanheim nearly canceled the Flyers-Caps game on Super Bowl Sunday. However, as seven more Flyers entered the NHL’s COVID list over the following days, shutting down the season and canceling games was the easy decision.

One look at the Flyers roster tells you that they aren’t out of the COVID woods yet. While their center core, defense, and goalies made it out largely unscathed, the wings are another story. The captain and last year’s leading scorer were among those unable to play Thursday night. The result? Re-calls for Andy Andreoff (taxi-squad) and AHLers Samuel Morin and David Kase, plus the NHL debut for 2017 4th rounder Maxim Sushko.

Despite the undermanned roster, the Flyers came out of their week-and-a-half slumber guns blazing against a Rangers defense missing Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller. After a bevy of early whistles, Philly’s new look second line went to work. NAK and Michael Raffl looked hungry in a rare audition above the fourth-line, and Kevin Hayes looked like he doesn’t want to give AV a reason to demote him there. The trio created a mad scramble around Alex Georgiev before a diving Aube-Kubel poked the puck to pay dirt, ending a 10-game goalless drought to start the scoring.

Philadelphia kept their strong play going through the rest of the frame. The Rangers evened things out as time went on, gaining momentum from a couple of successful PKs. A late two-minute Rangers 5-on-3 thankfully turned into a 4-on-3 thanks to a Chris Kreider penalty. That didn’t stop Artemi Panarin from ringing a one-timer off the crossbar, but it did stop them from lighting the lamp before the period ended. When the dust settled, the Flyers even had a slight edge in 5-on-5 shot attempts and expected goals.

New York’s power-play got a traditional 5-on-4 look early in the second with Kevin Hayes off for tripping, and this time they didn’t miss. For a while, it looked like the Flyers might be able to survive a lengthy d-zone shift by keeping the Rangers to the outside. But with PP time dwindling, Colin Blackwell deflected a Pavel Buchnevich shot past Hart, tying the game on his third of the year.

The Flyers looked clearly overwhelmed most of the period. Other than a couple of good shifts and two power-play opportunities, the Rangers largely dominated the second period. It took some gritted teeth and a penalty shot save by Carter Hart on Pavel Buchnevich, among other things, to escape the period even.

Unfortunately, the Flyers wouldn’t be able to hold on forever. The third period was very melancholy, with only a couple of exceptions. The first one wasn’t a good one. The Flyers had one of those shifts where they were all around the puck in the defensive zone but couldn’t manage to clear. Carter Hart tried to swipe a slow rolling puck to the corner, but inadvertently set up Artemi Panarin to set up Brendan Smith for a tap-in eight minutes into the third. Wait, are you telling me the guy who hasn’t scored since December 2019 scores against the Flyers?

With time ticking down, it didn’t look good. The Flyers weren’t able to muster many quality chances at 5-on-5, and what offense they did generate usually resulted in a blocked shot. For some reason, despite the dwindling odds and clock, I maintained a little bit of hope they might have a miracle in them. Yet as Carter Hart headed to the bench for the extra attacker, my belief looked misguided.

But that’s the thing about belief — you hold on for as long as you can because every once in a while, it pays off. With about 75 seconds left, Sean Couturier wisely decided to stop playing hockey and switch to 4D chess. The Flyers had already created one A+ scoring chance by caroming a puck off the end boards, and if ain’t broke, don’t fix. His wrist shot missed the net but took a lively bounce to Kevin Hayes backdoor. The ex-Ranger appeared to be robbed by a diving Ryan Lindgren, but Joel Farabee proved he’s more than just a one-hit two-hit three-hit wonder and jammed in the tying goal with 1:14 to go!

Getting one point was certainly an acceptable outcome considering the adversity facing Philadelphia tonight. Earning a second would’ve been downright heroic. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The Flyers killed off a Nolan Patrick penalty to survive OT. But Sean Couturier’s magical hands weren’t enough to beat the deceptive wristers of Kappo Kakko and Artemi Panarin. The Flyers win enough battles to pull out one point, but the Rangers win the war to snap a four-game skid.

This game played out exactly like I anticipated for 58 and a half minutes. The Flyers fought hard, but just weren’t able to create enough offense. Getting pucks on net was a problem all night, and not just because the Rangers were blocking everything in sight. That being said, the big guns deserve a lot of credit for sticking with it and preventing tonight from being a total loss. With no one on the COVID list coming back Sunday (per AV), things might get worse before they get better. But at least they have a decently high ceiling to fall from.

I was on the latest episode of Tanndemonium! We talked about Willie O’Ree’s number retirement, the Penguins hiring Ron Hextall, and Mika Zibanejad’s ice-cold start, which continued tonight.

Lindies

So here’s the deal right now with the Flyers COVID situation. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Justin Braun are all on the NHL’s COVID list. Being on this list doesn’t necessarily mean a player has tested positive (though Alain Vigneault confirmed Giroux has).

Any player that has tested positive has to miss at least 10 days; any player on the list because of a close-contact situation must miss at least 7. Travis Sanheim fell into the latter category; he was removed from the list a few days ago, and was therefore eligible to play tonight.

Philadelphia also had several game dates changed and still have a few that are TBD. Here’s the full list of changes.

Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek have been fixtures of Flyers hockey for quite some time. Tonight was the first Flyers game without either of them since March 1, 2009. Only five players from that contest (PHI: Jeff Carter & Braydon Coburn; NJ: Andy Greene, Zach Parise, & Travis Zajac) are still active.

Giroux’s positive COVID test means his iron-man streak comes to an end. The captain was up to 328 consecutive games played, a streak dating back to April 10, 2016; he was healthy scratched in a meaningless game to rest after the Flyers clinched a playoff spot the day before. It’s weird to watch a Flyers game without seeing number 28.

It made plenty of sense to break-up Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere in the Flyers last game with the left-handed Travis Sanheim unavailable. However, AV chose to keep Phil Myers with Provorov; in a rarity, Sanheim and Gostisbehere played together. The former tandem had the better showing by the numbers Thursday. Those guys are pretty clearly the top four, but it will be interesting to see how AV structures them going forward.

Sadly, James van Riemsdyk’s seven-game point streak came to end tonight. I think. He might have deflected Coots’ shot that set up the Farabee goal, but for now, no dice. Expect an update in Sunday’s article if the league changes it.

Artemi Panarin kills everybody, and the Flyers are certainly no exception. First, he stole the Calder from Shayne Gostisbehere in 2015-16. Tonight, he started by registering his 21st point in just sixteen career games against Philadelphia. And then he improved his league best shootout percentage by sniping the winner.

Philly didn’t have a lot of firepower in their line-up, but the Rangers did everything they could to limit what was there. New York blocked a season-high 27 shots (their previous high was 20).

Maxim Sushko apparently became the 14th player from Belarus in NHL history tonight (the Flyers broadcast said he was actually only the 9th). Devils rookie Yegor Sharangovich is the only other active Belarussian.

Some good and bad news for the two Flyers 2020 picks currently playing for the Phantoms with the OHL shut-down. Fourth rounder Zayde Wisdom is on fire, scoring two goals and an assist in his professional debut. Unfortunately, first round pick Tyson Foerster suffered a right shin fracture and will be out 3-4 weeks.

Now this is the stuff the Internet was made for.

While the Flyers season was paused, former Flyers player, marketing department member, and team ambassador (among other roles) Joe Watson retried from the organization. A defenseman for the Cup winning 1974 and 1975 clubs, Watson was part of the Flyers in varying capacities for 57 years, aka literally since day one. Enjoy retirement, Mr. Watson; you’ve definitely earned it.

3 Stars

3rd: Nicolas Aube-Kubel – Goal (2), 4 Hits

2nd: Joel Farabee – Goal (7), 4 SOG

1st: Artemi Panarin – Assist (11), SO Winner, 8 SOG

Next

NYR – 2/20 @ WSH (7-4-3, W1)

PHI – 2/21 @ BOS (10-2-2, L1) at Lake Tahoe

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