The Flyers beat the New York Rangers, 5-1, on Monday to head into the Christmas break with 21 wins and four straight victories under their belt. The team was buoyed by Travis Sanheim’s two goals after a 15-game drought, another strong performance by goalie Carter Hart at home, and Kevin Hayes’ two goals against the team that traded him away a year ago. The festive pregame show, which included Gritty in a Santa costume doing Rockette-style high-kicks, must’ve brought them some holiday luck.
Some more quick thoughts from the game:
Sanheim steps up: With seconds left in the second period, and the Flyers in desperate need of a score, Sanheim smacked the puck past Henrik Lundqvist for Sanheim’s third goal of the season and his first in 16 games.
With 4:11 left in the third, he found the back of the net again to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead. It was only the second two-goal game of his career, both of which came against outstanding goaltenders (the other was against the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky a year ago).
The Flyers re-signed the defenseman to a two-year deal this offseason after the 23-year-old impressed in the back half of last year. He’s been underwhelming for much of this year, so these were two big goals for him.
Hayes scores twice on former team: Monday marked the first time in the the regular season that Kevin Hayes played against the team that traded him a year ago, and he sure made a mark. The center scored the Flyers’ go-ahead goal in the third period, and later knocked in another to effectively put the game away. They were his 10th and 11th scores of the season.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneualt was also facing off against his former team for the first time in the regular season. The Ranger fired him after the 2017-2018 season, his fifth in New York. The coach led them to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, but was relieved of his duties after the Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Aube-Kubel gets first NHL goal: Right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel put the nail in the Rangers’ coffin on Monday with his first NHL goal, which came on a power play in the final minute of the game. The second-round pick in 2014 was recalled from the Phantoms last week as the Flyers battled a bunch of injuries.
Power play struggles: The Flyers did not score on five man-up opportunities in the first two periods. Of course, Aube-Kubel capitalized on the sixth and final one of the night. The Rangers didn’t fare much better, failing to score when they had a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period.
Heading into the game, the Flyers had gone 5-for-13 on the power play in the past four games, which was a marked improvement from the 11-game stretch a few weeks ago during which they went 4-for-33.
An early defensive battle: The game was scoreless for nearly 27 minutes. and at the first intermission it was poised to be a scrappy affair that’d be decided by which defense would let up first.
The goal-tending was particularly stout. Starting for the sixth time in the last eight games, youngster Carter Hart was dominant in the net for the Flyers, logging 34 saves. On the other end of the ice, Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvuist recorded 25.
An ill Provorov: Ivan Provorov kept his perfect attendance record intact on Monday. Despite battling the flu, he played in his 283rd straight game. But it wasn’t a perfect one for the sick defenseman. He had a turnover in the second period that set up New York forward Jesper Fast’s goal and put the visitors up 1-0.
“He’s the first one to tell you he can play a lot better than he did tonight,” Vigneault said after the game.
Up ahead: Well, first, the NHL shuts down for three days for the Christmas holiday. After the time off, the Flyers will head west to start a six-game road trip, which ends in Carolina on January 7.
To start, the Flyers take on the San Jose Sharks (16-20-2) at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, then the Anaheim Ducks (15-18-4) at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. The Flyers will certainly hope the stretch goes better than their last road trip, during which they went 0-3 and scored only five goals in losses to the Avalanche, Wild, and Jets.
Lindblom continues to motivate: Vigneault can’t pinpoint what changed after the Flyers’ dreadful road trip. He can’t break down what has caused them to win four straight since returning home. But the news of 23-year-old left winger Oskar Lindblom’s bone cancer diagnosis has caused the team to surge emotionally.
“I’d like to say it’s as simple as seeing Oskar in the morning” after the team returned home, Vigneault said, “and seeing that smiling face and him telling us ‘You guys got to win tonight.’ ”
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that," the coach continued. "I’m not exactly sure, but I know seeing him and being able to win that game and us getting back on track, that was a big moment.”