Better 5-On-5 Play Needed in Philly

The Rangers are in Philadelphia tonight to take on the Flyers for the third of four games between the two teams on the season.

The two games played to date have both been at The Garden, on January 16 and February 18, and each team has won a game apiece. The Flyers are another Metro opponent that is in a battle to advance to postseason play. They are in the first Eastern Conference wild card spot, three points ahead of the Devils, although New Jersey has played one fewer game. The Blueshirts will wrap up the season in Philadelphia on April 7, and it will be interesting to see what is on the line as far as the Flyers are concerned when that one gets tee’d up.

The Rangers special teams play is an area of their game that has been pretty good. Overall, that fine play has both the penalty kill and power play in the top-10 in league efficiency. Possession off the opening offensive faceoff, resultant crisp puck movement and no hesitancy to get the puck to the net has produced six power play goals in the last four games. The penalty kill, which has been good all season long, is at it’s best when not allowing an opponent to speed through the neutral zone and when sticks are in the right position in the defensive zone. A timely save sure helps also.

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While the special teams have been good, the 5-on-5 game has not been nearly good enough. A good example of what has gone on too often this season is the last game against Columbus. A shorthanded goal by Kevin Hayes, and power play goals by Chris Krieder and Mika Zibanejad weren’t enough to overcome being outscored 4-0 at even strength.

On the season, the Blueshirts are minus-30 when playing 5-on-5. When you break the numbers down even further, the Rangers have allowed 165 goals playing 5-on-5, the third most in the entire league. That is significantly worse than Alain Vigneault’s first season as head coach, the Cup finalist year (2013-14) when the Rangers allowed the third fewest goals during 5-on-5 play. There are a number of ways to look at why this number is such, but the bottom line here is that the majority of the game is played 5-on-5 and you have to be able to defend. The plus/minus number played in these situations has to be on the plus side. Or, you have no chance.

KEYS

1. Protect the Slot

Three of the five goals given up to the Blue Jackets came as a result of leaving the goal-scorer too much room in the slot area in the defensive zone. That is the prime area from a shooter’s perspective and needs to be better defended against the Flyers.

2. Manage 60 Minutes

Both teams have been guilty of a lack of consistency over the course of 60 minutes of regulation hockey. Who can play with more authority over a longer period of time likely stands the better chance of winning this one.

3. Flyers Goaltending

It has been a long time since the Flyers have had a netminder that the franchise could count on. Petr Mrazek or Alex Lyon will never be mistaken for the great Bernie Parent. Make the Flyers netminder earn his keep.

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The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.