Flyers' answer for Garden skid

ASSOCIATED PRESS Rangers' fourth-liners celebrate one of their two goals in 3-1 win over Flyers on March 26.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Rangers' fourth-liners celebrate one of their two goals in 3-1 win over Flyers on March 26.
Posted: April 17, 2014

IN SIX SEASONS with two teams, Jakub Voracek has yet to skate off the ice at Madison Square Garden a happy man.

Wayne Simmonds has the same lack of positive vibe over the same amount of seasons, so maybe they are not exactly the right people to analyze why the Flyers have lost eight straight games in the storied building despite what appears to be a parity of talent between the teams over that span.

Then, again, who better?

"We just haven't kept it simple enough," Voracek said yesterday after practice.

"Sometimes we may have looked to play more of a run-and-gun type of game, and that's what they thrive on," Simmonds said. "That's their type of game. That's not how we play. For us to be successful, we've got to keep things simple. Get pucks deep, make sure we're playing as a five-man unit. It's seemed like over the course of the last 3 years, we've tried to run-and-gun with New York in their building. And it hasn't turned out well for us."

No, it hasn't. I used to think it was partly Peter Laviolette's fault, that forward-pushing system played right into the counter-attacking philosophy employed by former Rangers coach John Tortorella. But Torts' replacement, Alain Vigneault, opened up the ice for the Rangers this season, improving what had been a moribund power play and unshackling quick-footed defenseman Ryan McDonagh and his sidekick, Dan Girardi. They still had the second-lowest goals-against total in the Eastern Conference, but the Rangers skate more freely and score more these days, arguably making them even more dangerous for a team that does not know thyself well.

"The Rangers are a good skating team and they get on you quick and forecheck hard. They're an aggressive team and their defense is aggressive," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "I think in both games there this year, a period, a period-and-a-half, we got off page. A little frustration sets in and we turn pucks over and it costs us."

Game 1, Jan. 12. Rangers, 4-1. New York scored twice in the first 3 minutes against a rusty-looking Ray Emery, then frustrated the Flyers all night, moving into second with the win. Dan Carcillo scored and dropped the gloves with Luke Schenn.

Game 2, March 26. Rangers, 3-1. The Rangers scored once in each period, with two goals from their fourth line and another from McDonagh. Voracek wrecked the shutout with a goal in the last 2 minutes.

"We've got to play a 60-minute game up there," Berube said. "You gotta stay focused, you can't get frustrated."

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the Penguins and their fans were saying the same sort of things before last Saturday's home game against the Flyers. Pittsburgh is 100-40-6 since their Consol Energy Center opened in 2010. The Flyers are 9-1-1 there.

Their secret: Caught up in the rivalry, the Penguins often get lured into a grittier game that diffuses their scoring prowess.

The Rangers' secret: They have lured the Flyers into an up-and-down game that activates the offensive skills of their defensemen. That style also inhibits one of the ultimate keys to winning this series for the Flyers:

Sticking their butts in Henrik Lundqvist's face.

Oh, yeah, there are less graphic ways of saying it. Berube said "cycling," "getting pucks to the net" and "grinding it out" enough times yesterday that we could have made it a drinking game. But it all translates to banging and outworking New York's quick but smallish defensemen long enough for Simmonds and Scott Hartnell to set up shop in front of the Rangers' goaltender.

"To be successful against them, you kind of have to have a half-ice game," Simmonds said. "You want to get pucks down there and cycle, and you want to get them up to your point and you want to have two or three guys in front of the net. He sees the first one, he's going to stop it 99 percent of the time. You've got to get in his face, make sure he's not able to focus properly, and get those second and third opportunities."

It's how they have made Marc-Andre Fleury look so bad so often in Pittsburgh. If the Flyers don't win in the Garden this series - which, of course, means they wouldn't win the series - it will be due to a lack of butt-face goals.

One last thing to mull as you wait for tomorrow night. Including that March 26 win against the Flyers, the Rangers played just three playoff teams over their last 11 games. Thirteen of the Flyers' final 17 games were against playoff teams. They beat the Blackhawks, they beat the Blues, they lost in a shootout to the Bruins. And they beat Pittsburgh in three games played between the teams over that span.

They also beat New York twice this season at home with a style they'd like to duplicate tomorrow. "Kind of boring," Berube said when asked to describe it, and he wasn't joking.

"You have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs," the coach said. "You really have to keep focusing that way. And you have to keep pounding away and pounding away, no matter what."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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