Emery's play was not why Flyers lost to the Rangers

Posted: April 18, 2014

NEW YORK - The best goaltender on the ice last night wore orange and black. There's your silver lining in a gruesome, 4-1 Game 1 loss to the New York Rangers, a defeat that seemed to suggest that this nine-game losing streak in Madison Square Garden is more about personnel than coincidence.

Ray Emery was supposed to be the big difference between the teams. They had an Olympic goalie. You had a rebuilt 31-year-old backup between your pipes. But Ray was not the problem. The problem was that besides him, there wasn't a single player wearing that jersey who was better than the player in the same role wearing blue.

There's your dark cloud, and here's another. Too many of them, including the captain, didn't seem to understand that the gap between the teams seemed to be widening, didn't seem to get how much Emery's play gave them a chance to win a game they did not even compete in until that one final sloppy mistake - a 4-minute high sticking penalty by call-up Jake Akeson - sealed their collective fate.

Wayne Simmonds was not one of them. Someone asked him afterward what the Flyers needed to do to break the losing streak and he snapped, "Play better than that, that's for sure." Someone started to ask him about Emery, and Simmonds hardly waited for him to finish.

"He made so many big saves for us," Simmonds said. "We had a chance to win because of some of the saves he made. I don't think he had a chance on any of the ones that went in."

Five minutes into the game, the Flyers had not registered a shot. They scored on their first, a blast by Andrew MacDonald after Scott Hartnell delivered the first of what the Flyers hope are repeated hard checks to Rangers top defenseman Ryan McDonagh and his damaged shoulder.

Hah, another silver lining. Except that McDonagh more than sustained it. He even delivered a vicious crosscheck to the back of Claude Giroux in front as MacDonald's shot sailed past him.

The Flyers had vowed beforehand that they would avoid the neutral-zone turnover mistakes that have punctuated their losing streak at the Garden. But New York's first goal was a result of such a lapse, Mats Zuccarello, slipping past Sean Couturier to knock in the rebound of Benoit Pouliot's wrist shot at 10:53.

It was the fifth shot the Rangers registered over a 60-second span, pushing their shot advantage at the time to 10-4. Emery had just held tight to the post on a wraparound by Brian Boyle, stopping both the first shot and the rebound. Earlier, he made a nice stop on Rick Nash as he finished off a 3-on-2, although he created some anxiety when he looked into the goal as the puck sat under his pads.

By the end of the period, the shots stood 14-6, Rangers. They spent most of the period pinning the Flyers with their cycle, underlining the fear that they are simply a faster-playing team. Despite their mantra to play "boring" hockey and shuffle the puck up the ice along the boards, there were several eye-covering moments when the Flyers did not.

There was little cycling. There were very few bodies in front of Henrik Lundqvist. It was so one-sided at times that even when a pass floated past its intended target, two blue shirts were competing to pick up the scraps.

Emery battled through all of it, making outstanding saves on Zuccarello and John Moore on bang-bang shots during one second-period rush, stopping two more shots from Boyle in the crease later on.

And while the Flyers mustered two more shots than they had in the first, their effort in front of their goaltender improved. New York had only nine shots in that period, and was actually outshot by the Flyers in the final 5 minutes of the period - one to zero. A step-in slapper by MacDonald in the waning seconds of the period might have even given the Flyers a lead if not for a late stick deflection.

"I thought we were in a good position to start the third," Emery said.

"I thought we were coming," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. But from that span into the third, the teams went more than 10 minutes without a shot between them, which included a messy Flyers power play in which the Rangers held the puck for much of its last minute. Shortly thereafter, Akeson's stick caught Carl Hagelin, and New York capitalized with two power-play goals - both on pucks that rebounded to Emery's open side.

In the end, Emery made 32 saves on 36 shots. New York's last goal is the only one he had a chance to stop, and by then, it was meaningless.

So now what? Do you give Ray another shot regardless of Steve Mason's health? Because you certainly can't blame him for last night. If not for that inadvertent stick, he might have stolen a game whose final score doesn't even start to describe its otherwise unsightliness.

"You always got to be ready to play," he said. "I'll definitely prepare as if I'm going to."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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