Couturier continues offensive surge as Flyers end losing streak

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Henrik Lundqvist did everything he could for the New York Rangers on Friday afternoon, and for most of their game against the Philadelphia Flyers he at least give them a shot to stay in it.

In the end, though, his 42 saves were not anywhere near enough as Sean Couturier and the Flyers eventually wore him and the Rangers’ defense down and broke through on their way to a 4-0 win, snapping what had been a four-game losing streak.

The Flyers received goals from Travis Konecny, Jordan Weal, and a pair from Couturier, as well as 31 saves from goalie Calvin Pickard, to roll to a win that was a lot tighter than the final score might indicate.

With less than nine minutes to play in regulation the Flyers were clinging to a 1-0 lead as they continued to fire shots at Lundqvist, unable to break through and add any extra cushion on the scoreboard. It was during that time that Pickard made his best save of the day when he made a point-blank stop on a wide open Lias Andersson following a defensive breakdown by the Flyers, and then had a little luck on his side when an Anthony DeAngelo shot rang off the post.

Just 20 seconds after DeAngelo struck iron, Couturier scored his first goal of the day to double the Flyers’ lead.

That was when the floodgates finally opened for the Flyers offensively.

Weal added an empty net goal just three minutes later, and then with Lundqvist back in the net Couturier scored his second of the game just 25 seconds later. He also assisted on Konecny’s goal in the first period to give him his fourth multi-point game of the season.

Couturier’s big performance continued what has been a massive hot streak for him. After recording just three points in his first 11 games, Couturier has been on a roll ever since and has now scored seven goals and eight assists in his past 11 games. He is now up to 10 goals and 18 total points in 22 games this season. After a breakout season a year ago offensively that saw him top the 30-goal and 75-point mark, he is now on pace to top his goal-scoring numbers (now on a 37-goal pace) and once again come close to 70 points.

Along with the three points, he also finished with a game-high 11 total shot attempts, including eight on goal. When he was on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Flyers attempted 70 percent of the total shot attempts. It was a truly dominant showing by him and his line.

The Rangers, who have been an early surprise this season and were 9-2-1 in their previous 12 games entering Friday, maintain a spot in the top-three of the Metropolitan Division even with the loss, while the Flyers were able to get two points closer in the standings.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers. 

2017-18:

34-39-9, 77 pts. (8th Metropolitan Division; 12th Eastern Conference)
missed playoffs

IN:

Frederik Claesson

OUT:

David Desharnais
Paul Carey
Dan Catenacci
Ryan Sproul
Ondrej Pavelec
Peter Holland

RE-SIGNED:

Ryan Spooner
Vladislav Namestikov
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Hayes
Brady Skjei
John Gilmour
Boo Nieves
Cody McLeod
Ryan O’Gara
Chris Bigras

– – –

You could kind of feel that the season the New York Rangers had last year was a long-time coming.

[Rangers Day: Under PressureBreakthrough | Three Questions

The team was getting a little too stale, a little too over-reliant on the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist night-in and night-out, plagued by years invested in players whose names didn’t match their talent level anymore and a coach who couldn’t seem to find the next gear with the team he had.

When the burden atop Lundqvist’s shoulders became too much to bear after the ball dropped in Time Square to usher in 2018, the Rangers simply imploded with him.

And so the purge began, long before the 2017-18 season came to a close — on Feb. 8, when the team announced that it was game over and before any more coins could be dropped into the machine, a rebuild would have to take place.

In hindsight, it started to happen before the season began. They had already shipped out Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta prior to last year’s NHL Draft for the No. 7 pick, which they used to snag Lias Andersson.

At the trade deadline several months later, the Rangers swung the blockbuster of the season, sending Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning in return for Vladislav Namestikov, two prospects and a pick.

The move capped off a wild year in the Big Apple. The Rangers sold off Rick Nash, Nick Holden and Michael Grabner while amassing roster players, picks and prospects.

Here is the complete list (thanks to PHT’s Adam Gretz):

  • 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Andersson)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
  • 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
  • 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
  • 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
  • 2019 seventh-round pick
  • Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Matt Beleskey
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Ryan Lindgren
  • Libor Hajek
  • Brett Howden
  • Ygor Rykov
  • Rob O'Gara

They also said goodbye to their old coaching staff after firing Alain Vigneault and replacing him with David Quinn from Boston University fame. He takes the reins at a perfect time for the Rangers, given his apparent ability to develop young players.

A rebuild, then, from top to bottom.

It’s also meant a pretty uneventful summer in the import category, other than Quinn’s hiring.

Fredrik Claesson, signed on July 1, is the only player brought in that has played NHL games. But the Rangers made some good decisions in re-signing a swath of restricted free agents in Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Namestikov, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, Boo Nieves and Rob O’Gara.

New York’s forward contingent this season doesn’t look half bad on paper, but it’s on defense where things get a bit hairy.

Kevin Shattenkirk had knee surgery in January, ending his first season in a blue shirt, and while he’s probable for the start of the season, you never know how those are going to turn out. The Rangers are certainly hoping a healthy Shattenkirk and return to the same form that they saw when they gave him a four-year extension with a full no-movement clause. The last thing the Rangers need during a rebuild is having to eat a contract that was supposed to be the defenseman that solidified their top-four.

The Rangers gave up the second most shots per game (35.3) and the fourth most goals-against per game (263), so those numbers certainly need to improve if the goal is not to have the aging Lundqvist put in a bad spot each night.

That said, the expectation that the Rangers compete for a playoff spot is probably a futile one. The team is rebuilding, and to do it right means to take it slow. They’ve trimmed a lot of fat in a short period of time, but youth needs time to develop and shouldn’t be rushed.

Prospect Pool:

  • Lias Andersson, C/LW, 19, Frolunda/Hartford (SHL/AHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Perhaps the readiest of all of New York’s prospects, Andersson blends a strong two-way game with impressive speed, skill and shooting abilities. He got seven games with the Rangers at the end of the season, scoring once and adding an assist, had 14 points in 22 games in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda, and in 25 games with the Wolfpack in the American Hockey League, posting 14 points in 25 games. There’s a spot open for him on the opening day roster if he wants it.

  • Filip Chytil, C, 18, CSKA Moscow (KHL) – 2017 first-round pick

There’s an argument that Chytil is just as ready for the Show as Andersson, perhaps slightly more. Chytil got nine total games with the Rangers, including making the team out of training camp last season. He posted a goal and two assists combined in his time with the Rangers and played most of the season in Hartford where he had 11 goals and 31 points in 46 games. Chytil also had four points in seven games with the Czech Republic at the world juniors and then two additional points at the world championships. Like Andersson, there’s room for Chytil providing he can make an impression in training camp.

  • Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 18, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL) – 2018 first-round pick

The Rangers have a lot of skilled first round picks, don’t they? Kravtsov is their latest, taken ninth overall this past June. The kid is big, too. He’s 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds with plenty of room to fill out. He won the Aleksei Cherepanov Award for the KHL’s best rookie and set a playoff record for a junior-aged player with 16 points. He was named rookie of the month twice and rookie of the week three times and will be back with Traktor to begin next season after signing an extension in July. Assuming all goes well, he could play with the Rangers by years’ end depending on how far Traktor makes it in the Gagarin Cup.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Where does Rangers’ rebuild go from here?

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Just a few weeks before the NHL trade deadline the New York Rangers told their fans that changes were coming.

Even though the team was still very much in the playoff race, it was becoming clear that it was not a Stanley Cup contender and with several veteran players nearing the end of their contracts it was probably a good opportunity to start selling off those players and trying to restock the cupboards.

Honestly, though, that restocking probably began long before that letter was sent out when the team traded Derek Stepan, a top-six center, and Antti Raanta, a very solid goalie, to the Arizona Coyotes for the No. 7 overall pick in the draft and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.

It continued over the past few days with the trading of Michael Grabner to New Jersey, Rick Nash and Nick Holden to Boston, and J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay.

It was a ton of movement.

In return for those seven players (including Stepan and Raanta) the Rangers have picked up 16 assets in return.

Here is the complete list:

  • 2017 first-round pick (from Arizona — used to select Lias Andersson)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Boston)
  • 2018 first-round pick (Tampa Bay)
  • 2018 second-round pick (New Jersey)
  • 2018 third-round pick (Boston)
  • 2019 conditional second-round pick (Tampa Bay — would become another first-round pick if Tampa Bay wins the Stanley Cup this season or next season)
  • 2019 seventh-round pick
  • Vladislav Namestnikov
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Matt Beleskey
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Ryan Lindgren
  • Libor Hajek
  • Brett Howden
  • Ygor Rykov
  • Rob O'Gara

That is a lot of future assets and a lot of players coming back in return. That bounty gives the Rangers seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft, including three in the first round.

So what do we make of this return and where the Rangers ultimately go from here?

First, there is a lot of quantity over quality here.

Other than the pick they received for Stepan and Raanta none of the draft picks are going to be prime picks. All of those teams are headed to the playoffs and when it comes to the Boston and Tampa Bay firsts those could be in the mid-20s and perhaps even later. The other picks (second, third, seventh) are basically lottery tickets. When you’re dealing with draft picks outside of the top-10 one of the best ways to find talent is to have as many picks as possible to increase your odds. Not all of those draft picks are going to land the Rangers a future NHL player. But they have at least increased their odds of finding one by giving themselves more chances.

The same is true for a lot of the prospects. Some good ones, but no real blue-chippers. They did not get back a Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point from Tampa Bay in the McDonagh and Miller deal.

They did not get back any organization’s top prospect, but there are still a couple of interesting players in those deals.

So, about this retooling/rebuilding. Is this it? Or do they do more in the offseason and unload players like Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider or Mika Zibanejad and really go all in on an all-out, full-blown rebuild?

That might be a tough sell with Henrik Lundqvist still hanging around — and not really seeming to have much interest in playing elsewhere — and still playing at a pretty high level. As long as he is on the roster there is going to be an incentive to want to win, and he is probably going to give them a chance simply because he might keep them in some games they may not otherwise be in.

Or, with that latter point in mind, is this more of a retooling that allows the Rangers to stockpile a lot of future assets while still trying to compete? That can be a dangerous game because you don’t want to get stuck in the NHL’s middle ground where you are not quite a contender, but you are also not quite bad enough to increase your chances of a top pick and a true franchise-changing talent in the lottery.

Plus, it’s not like they traded a bunch of players that have long-term contracts. Dealing Nash, Grabner and Holden made sense because all three were unrestricted free agents after this season. Raanta was never going to be more than a backup in New York. Miller was a restricted free agent after this season and in line for a raise, while McDonagh would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season.

The only player throughout this entire roster purge that still had several years of term left on his contract was Stepan.

Even after all of that they still have some good players on the roster, especially at forward where they could still potentially put a formidable group on the ice next season, especially with a healthy Kreider and what would hopefully be a further developed Pavel Buchnevich.

What’s interesting about the forwards is two of the bigger pieces they received in the Nash and McDonagh/Miller trades — Namestnikov and Spooner — are established NHLers, and pretty good ones.

Namestnikov may never duplicate the production he has put on the board this season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for an extended period of time, but he has talent and has shown flashes of being a top-six player. Spooner has shown he can be a 40-50 point forward in the NHL the past couple of years. Both are RFA’s after this season and in line for raises, and even though they still have to fill out a roster next season those do not really seem like the type of forwards a team that is going to tear it all down would look to acquire.

They clearly reset things, but they haven’t totally torn it to the ground. A lot of the players traded were probably going to be gone in a few months anyway for no return if they had just simply held on to them. They still have some useful pieces in place and by shedding the salaries of Stepan and McDonagh they have a little more salary cap flexibility.

There are certainly some different directions the Rangers could go from here, and it’s not really clear which way they will take it.

They have a lot of lottery tickets and assets in their hands for the future. But they still have some interesting pieces for the present.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Simmonds to miss 2-3 weeks as Flyers’ injury woes continue

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The Philadelphia Flyers are winning a lot of hockey games right now but the injury bug has taken a pretty big bite out of them over the past couple of weeks.

After running out of veteran goalies (Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both sidelined for 4-6 weeks) and needing to trade for Petr Mrazek on Monday night, the team announced on Tuesday that forward Wayne Simmonds will be sidelined for the next two-to-three weeks due to an upper body injury.

Simmonds’ absence will be a big blow to the Flyers’ power play where he has become one of the best net-front players in the league. He leads the team with 10 power play goals this season.

[Related: Flyers acquire Mrazek from Red Wings]

He played 14 minutes in the Flyers’ 7-4 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday and got into a fight with Anthony DeAngelo early in the first period.

In 59 games this season he has scored 20 goals. It is the fifth consecutive season, and sixth time in seven years, he has topped the 20-goal mark. The only time during that stretch he did not reach 20 goals was the lockout shortened 2012-13 season when he scored 15 goals in 45 games.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers win again but lose another goalie

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The Philadelphia Flyers continued their recent hot streak on Sunday afternoon by rolling into Madison Square Garden and crushing the New York Rangers, 7-4.

It helped them keep pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for the No. 2 spot (or perhaps even the top spot) in the Metropolitan Division and was their seventh win in the past eight games. Since losing 10 in a row earlier this season the Flyers are now on a 22-8-2 run.

It was a balanced offensive attack that featured the Flyers getting goals from seven different players, including captain Claude Giroux who scored his 200th career goal.

The Flyers also received goals from Travis Konecny, Jori Lehtera, Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton, Brandon Manning, and Andrew MacDonald.

That is the good news for the Flyers.

The bad news is the win came with a price as they lost another goalie when Michal Neuvirth had to leave the game after the first period due to a lower body injury. He was replaced by rookie Alex Lyon who went on to stop 25 of the 26 shots he faced to record his first career win.

The problem for the Flyers is going to be if Neuvirth’s injury is anything serious because they are already without starting goalie Brian Elliott for the next few weeks. That could leave them dangerously thin at one of the most important positions on the ice at the worst time of the year. If Neuvirth misses any significant time it could force general manager Ron Hextall into a trade.

Sunday’s game got off to a pretty wild start as the two teams combined for six goals and three fights in the first period.

The fighting started just 15 seconds into the game when Shayne Gostisbehere dropped the gloves for the first time in his career. It was in response to a hit from Pavel Buchnevich on Konecny. It was Buchnevich’s second career fight and came in just his second game back in the lineup after he was sidelined due to a concussion.

Ten minutes later Wayne Simmonds dropped the gloves with Anthony DeAngelo, a bout that was followed by Cody McLeod and Dale Weise fighting just one minute later.

As for the Rangers, well, this one was ugly. The only good news is that a couple of their potential trade pieces (Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello) scored goals and perhaps gave their trade value a little bit of a boost. Other than that this was an ugly, ugly game as they gave up way too many chances, looked sloppy defensively, left Henrik Lundqvist out on an island too many times, while Lundqvist himself had a rough game.

The Rangers kept Lundqvist in for all seven goals against.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.