Coaches: overrated? I can’t think of any other conclusion to draw after the New York Rangers absolutely demolished the Philadelphia Flyers at MSG on Wednesday night without assistance from any of their regular coaching staff. Head coach David Quinn and assistants Jacques Martin, David Oliver, and Greg Brown all had to miss this contest because of the NHL’s COVID protocols, but they were not missed in the slightest as a makeshift staff comprised of the Rangers’ AHL head coach and assistant, plus associate GM Chris Drury, piloted the team to a 9-0—yes, nine to nothing—blowout.
Even more stunning, the 9-0 score only accounts for 40 minutes of action, as both teams basically skated around to run out the clock after the second intermission, despite fans at the Garden chanting, “We want 10!” Before the final period, though—particularly in an astonishing seven-goal second—the Rangers looked like the greatest hockey team to ever skate the earth. The Flyers’ goalies and defense, meanwhile, looked like they had money on the Rangers, constantly allowing them into dangerous areas and almost literally letting them score at will. And, though it won’t lead any of the stories, Alexandar Georgiev’s 26-save shutout, highlighted by this unbelievable kick save, certainly made the scoreline more absurd than it could’ve been.
“I have no words, to be honest,” Georgiev said afterwards. “It was sort of surreal.”
If you don’t have it in you to watch nine goals in a row right now, I’ll just direct your attention to the one that sums this game up the best: the first of Mika Zibanejad’s natural hat trick, which began with the Flyers starting a power play down 5-0 midway through the game. Philadelphia won the face-off, got it back to their attacking blue line, and then Ivan Provorov slipped and fell, allowing Zibanejad to steal the puck and close in on Carter Hart, who had just entered the game to relieve Brian Elliott. Zibanejad didn’t look back and smoothly deked to his left, moved to his right, and put it past Hart on the breakaway. After a case of COVID that may or may not have contributed to a truly dreadful start to the season, Zibanejad’s six-point night had him finally looking like his old explosive self.
If the Rangers were on the receiving end of this beating, or if it were the Flyers who for pandemic-related reasons had to avoid their whole coaching staff last night, the morning-after chatter would likely be about why the team with no familiar faces on the bench was forced to play at all. But the fireworks display put on by a New York squad backed into a tough spot does a fantastic job of distracting from all that—the deadly virus, the opacity of the NHL’s COVID protocols, just about any issue you can think of, really.
It does not necessarily distract, however from the questions about Quinn, whose seat was starting to get a little warm thanks to the underachievement of the Rangers, a trendy playoff pick who’ve spent more of the season scuffling in the basement with the likes of the Devils and Sabres than banging with the contenders. I’m sure Quinn was pleased to see his team win, but at a certain point, he probably wouldn’t have minded them taking their foot off the gas. This was the rare game in which fans of both teams want to see their full-time coaches fired afterward: Philly for a complete lack of effort on the ice, and the Rangers because, well, how the hell does Quinn have a team with this kind of potential in only sixth place?