Frustrated Flyers struggle vs. Rangers

A lone female New York Rangers fan declared the obvious in a near-silent Well Fargo Center, at least before the jeers that followed as regulation ticked down.

“You can’t beat us,” she screamed, a refrain carried over from a game at Madison Square Garden earlier in the week.

No, the Philadelphia Flyers can’t. Saturday’s 5-2 loss sealed by, among other things, Rangers forward Ryan Callahan’s second career hat trick dropped the Flyers to 0-5 this season against their Atlantic Division rivals. The most recent setback had veteran Philly defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who is normally as calm as they come, questioning more than just a mental block against the Rangers.

“To be honest, I think we have half the guys going, half the guys not,” Timonen said.

That’s a troubling thought, especially going up against a team that beat you in the most hyped game so far this season: the Winter Classic across the street at Citizen’s Bank Park on Jan. 2.

“It doesn’t feel good,” said Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, one of the few bright spots, as he finished with a Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist and a fight). “Obviously, we played them five times and lost five times. It’s not a good feeling in here right now."

Beyond effort, there are three other major holes with the Flyers at the moment: defense, untimely penalties and goaltending. Some are easier to solve than others.

Take defense, which was sufficient during even-strength situations Saturday, but the loss of Chris Pronger — who is out for the season with post-concussion syndrome — is plainly evident on special teams, where the Rangers scored on three of seven power-play chances.

“He’s not here,” Timonen said. “We all should get by that by now. He’s not coming back. Obviously, we’d be more than happy to take him back, but he’s not here. Would he say something? I don’t know. Who knows?”

This defeat was hardly goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s doing, even if he allowed the five goals on 25 shots. None were soft and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette gave props to Bobrovsky for some early stops, including a sprawling block on a one-timer by Marian Gaborik in the first period that kept the game scoreless.

“We did have two breakdowns early where we needed big saves out of our goaltender and we got it,” Laviolette said.

This was Bobrovsky’s 22nd game in net, not something the Flyers execs expected when they dealt for Ilya Bryzgalov’s negotiating rights and then signed him to a nine-year, $51 million deal last offseason. Bryzgalov has proven to be inconsistent and with a third of the season to play, the team’s goaltending situation — which has hamstrung the franchise for decades — remains unsettled.

Still, it’d be helpful for whoever is in net not to face unneeded penalty-kill situations.

Scott Hartnell, a gritty forward who paces the Flyers in goals (26), is still subject to taking bad penalties, which occurred twice in this game. He had plenty of room to stop before he ran into Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but clipped him anyway and was whistled for goalie interference. (The Rangers scored on the ensuing penalty.) New York didn’t tally a goal on the other, a high-sticking penalty along the benches.

As the game progressed, Rangers forward Mike Rupp said he could sense the Flyers’ aggravation.

“There were some slamming of sticks and (players) slamming the gate coming off (the ice),” Rupp said. “I have been on teams where we’ve had that, too. It’s frustrating, but we understand (Philly) is a good hockey club and could beat us any given day.”

The Rangers, who two seasons ago lost in this building on the final game of the regular season and were bounced from the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, haven’t seen near the same adversity of the Flyers. Lundqvist was again stellar in net, even as the Rangers were outshot 32-25. The Rangers have lost 165 man games to injury, but are otherwise healthy at the moment minus defenseman Michael Sauer (concussion).

“We have struggled in this building the last couple years,” Callahan said. “This is our first one here this year, other than the Winter Classic game. They play hard here and come out strong. A big thing for us was our start and things rolled from there.”

Sounds similar to how the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers have plowed through the first four-plus months of the regular season. The Rangers face the Flyers once more — at least as far as the regular season is concerned — on April 4, New York’s third-to-last game before the playoffs.

Maybe by then the Flyers will have figured a few things out, like scoring more goals than the Rangers for once.