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January 16, 2016

Flyers fall to Rangers in shootout (of course), but team’s play has improved as of late

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Following the Philadelphia Flyers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon, Wayne Simmonds nipped what promises to be one of the major talking points in the bud.

“Shootouts suck.”

That they do, Wayne, especially for the Orange and Black. Once Mats Zuccarello, New York’s first shooter, deked Steve Mason out of his pads, you just figured it was going to be tough for the Flyers to sneak one past Henrik Lundqvist.

They didn’t. The shootout proves to be the Philly’s nemesis yet again. Been there, done that. And with the home-standing Flyers forking over two points to a team they’re currently chasing in the Metropolitan Division, the standings tell you the obvious:

Yes, it would have been huge for the Flyers to get two points in regulation against New York.

Yes, they need to take care of business in their division games.

Yes, the margin for error is slim as their chances for the postseason hover somewhere below 50 percent in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The Flyers missed an opportunity, but in the big picture, I’m more interested in another question: Are they playing well? And as Simmonds said after describing the suckitude of the shootout, the answer is yes.

“I thought we played better for the better part of the game, I thought, myself personally, [we] deserved better than the one point,” Simmonds said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Especially when Lundqvist is in net for your opponent. After a sometimes shaky first period highlighted by a couple of penalties, the Flyers were largely the better team on Saturday in out-Corsi’ing the Rangers 61-40 at 5v5 even strength. That doesn’t necessarily mean they deserved to win, but from here, it’s a good sign moving forward that these type of efforts have become more commonplace as of late.

“We played a good hockey game,” Dave Hakstol said. “I like the way our team played from start to finish.”

A major part of the the Flyers’ improvement has to do with Sean Couturier’s offense catching up with the rest of his game. The 23-year-old center (9 goals and 11 assists in 35 games), who signed a six-year extension this offseason, is starting to show the rest of the NHL what the Flyers have believed for a long time.

And at 3:58 in the first period, it was Couturier who took advantage of Chris Kreider missing the net by a country mile. First, there’s the patience once he enters the zone and then the pass to Brayden Schenn for a slam dunk off the rebound:

“We out-shot them, they have a good goalie and we wanted to bring a lot of pucks to the net and try to create some stuff off second and third rebounds,” Couturier said. “I thought we did a good job, we just didn’t capitalize.”

Of course, the Flyers also gave up two goals in regulation. One came on the power play when J.T. Miller fired the puck past Steve Mason from the left dot (not the greatest goal you’ll ever see surrendered). The other came on a well-executed 2-on-1 after Evgeny Medvedev made a mess of things at the blue line:

The entire game clearly wasn’t Medvedev’s best effort, but any blame from Hakstol will be expressed privately.

“The goal against wasn’t one guy,” Hakstol said of Kreider’s tap-in off the pass from Rick Nash. “They’re a good transition team, they scored two transition goals on us tonight. There’s a lot more involved on that second goal than one player.

This was a well-played hockey game and a fun atmosphere. There are plenty of times during these winter months when the Wells Fargo Center has been and will be relatively dead. Flyers-Rangers on was not one of them.

When Miller beat Mason in the first period, the sizable group of people in the building that were wearing blue roared in approval. The cheering Rangers fans, in a local tradition, were promptly drowned out by boos.

On Saturday, New York fans got the last laugh, but the Flyer faithful are definitely starting to see some good things from their own team. Just listen to the captain, who started the beautiful passing play that led to Simmonds’ tying goal in the third period:

“If we keep playing the way we’re playing right now, we’re going to win a lot of games,” Giroux said.


Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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