Jan 4, 2010, 11:01 PM EDT
One of the bigger issues plaguing the Flyers last season was their frequent inability to play all 60 minutes of a game. They'd lapse for a period and/or give up a lead, and we'd all be frustrated at a lackadaisical 20 minutes ruining a solid 40. Over their last five games though, we've seen just the opposite. On Thursday night, they played a very even first period with the Rangers, gave up the game's first goal, then flat out took the game over and never let up.
Outstanding goaltending, timely scoring, great team defense, and chemistry regardless of line configurations all factored into the Flyers' 4-1 over the Rangers.
Sergei Bobrovsky has started and won each of the Flyers' last five games, and tonight was one of his best showings despite only facing 21 shots on goal. Bob made several athletic saves on second and third efforts, saw the ice through screens, and once again showed an ability to challenge at near-perfect angles. He's 7-2-0 to start his NHL career, and the most promising goalie we've seen here in a long time.
The game began with an off-tempo start, with neither team taking too many chances and the hits far outnumbering the shots. We knew we'd see a tilt between Derek Boogaard and Jody Shelley, and it took less than 4 minutes to happen.
Boogaard, with his astounding wingspan, got the better of Shelley, who was pissed either that the fight was stopped early or that Boogaard nailed him in the back of the head. Maybe it was just that he got beat, even though there weren't too many punches landed by either guy. It would be Boogaard, however, who would end the game utterly frustrated.
Jeff Carter took a penalty a heartbeat before the horn sounded to end the first period, and it would prove costly. The Rangers powerplay unit controlled the puck for nearly the full first 2 minutes of the second before finally scoring on a rebound. Nothing that Bobrovsky could do about it. Then, with the teams back at even strength, the Rangers put forward another barrage on Bobrovsky, and this time he saved every one of them.
It was a sequence that could have led to the Flyers losing total control of the game, and it would have been understandable if Bobrovsky had let one up given all the pressure. But he made the saves, and the Flyers took it the other way and opened their own set of floodgates, scoring on two of their first three shots in the period.
The first came on a powerplay drawn by Eric Wellwood, who had another solid game with the big club. Mike Richards converted a top shelf beauty off of another Claude Girouxian masterpiece.
Richards obviously deserves a lot of credit for being in the right place and giving the puck a perfect touch to get it high over Henrik Lundqvist, but goddamn that pass was just amazing. With more exceptional play in all settings, Giroux was once again the best player on the ice. Ville Leino deserves a gold star here too. Two different Rangers hit him and piled on him, but he still emerged with the puck and pushed it over to Giroux, who may have blessed it before turning the miraculous backhand pass to Richards.
Richie now has points in each of the last five Flyers games, all of which were wins. Giroux, who would add an assist later, has four two-point nights in his last five games and scored in the fifth.
And yet, he's not carrying the team on his own. The Flyers forward depth continues to factor heavily into their wins, with no more obvious example than Blair Betts scoring his third goal of the season.
Scott Hartnell pestered Mike Del Zotto behind the Rangers' net, and Betts swooped in to take the puck away as Del Zotto came out from behind. Betts got two shots off, scoring on the rebound. Not a bad night against the team that let him walk two summers ago.
Nikolay Zherdev, also facing his former team, got on the board as well. Zherdev corralled a dump-off from Giroux and threw it on Lundqvist from almost no angle, where the boards meet the goal line.
Zherdev skated hard and created several good scoring opportunities, and he was named the broadcasts Star of the Game. Not bad for a guy who was very recently a healthy scratch.
Chris Pronger would cap the scoring with another powerplay blast from the point after a dumb penalty by Brandon Prust (punching Zherdev) resulted in the Flyers' man advantage. Pronger has three goals this season, all coming on the powerplay, all huge booming shots set up by Kimmo Timonen. The two were working hard to set up the shot earlier in the game, but couldn't get past a tight Rangers PK unit. Given their recent success on it and their efforts to do it again early in this one, it's telling that they finally scored. Knowing full well what the Flyers were trying to do, the Rangers still couldn't stop it. Added props for Carter, who set a perfect screen.
Despite being without a shot for the first 6 minutes of the third period, Rangers coach John Tortorella had sent in the goons already. Boogaard was on the ice for two straight shifts, but couldn't find a dance partner. Keith Jones hit the nail on the head when he said it'd been years since Boogaard had scored; if Torts was putting him on the ice, the safest play for the Flyers was to leave him out there as long as you can.
Carcillo and Prust did scrap after Carcillo skated away from the Boogie Man, a close match that probably went to Prust. Chico could also hear from the league on a hit he made in the third period, although he wasn't assessed a penalty for it. Boogaard ended the game by smashing his stick on the boards as he entered the bench. Fitting.
- Bobrovsky figures to get a break this weekend, with games coming on both Saturday and Sunday.
- During the first intermission, former Flyers and currently broadcaster Bill Clement became a US citizen.
- The Flyers sit alone atop the division, with four points on both the Rangers and the Penguins.
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