Straka was weak before the opening faceoff, better after the first period, stronger through 40 minutes, and perfect when he sealed the New York Rangers’ latest victory with a breakaway goal. It was the sixth three-goal NHL game for the understated and overshadowed Straka, who reached the 20-goal mark for the sixth time, and it carried the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
Not bad for a guy who loses lots of attention to linemates Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander. With 21 goals, he is only one shy of his total for last season.
“I don’t pay any attention to that,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything to me.
“I’m not going to pass anybody, I’m not going to catch anybody. I just try to play my game.”
Straka scored in each period for the roller-coaster Rangers, who are back on an upswing. They have won three straight following a seven-game losing streak that came on the heels of a season-high victory spurt of five games.
Straka gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead and finished his first three-goal game since last March 29 with an unassisted breakaway goal that made it 3-1 with 13:06 left. Straka, who flashed a wide smile and fist pumps after each goal, brought dozens of hats raining to the ice after No. 3.
With Jagr drawing double-team checking every game, there is more space available for Straka and Nylander. If they produce, the strategy might have to change.
“No, no,” Straka said. “It won’t.”
Philadelphia had its longest winning streak of the season end at three despite the first goal of the season by Eric Meloche. The Flyers, 3-2 on their eight-game road trip, are last in the NHL with 11 wins.
Robert Esche had won three straight for the Flyers – following the team’s record 10-game losing streak – while making at least 40 saves in each. His workload dipped to 26 saves in this one.
“It’s not what the other team does, it’s what we do to ourselves,” Esche said. “I think that we allowed them to do things and you can’t do that.”
Once Straka connected 4:15 after the opening faceoff, Philadelphia was essentially done. The Flyers are 1-21-1 when allowing the first goal and 1-16 when trailing after the first period.
Henrik Lundqvist did the rest, stopping 22 shots. He lost his shutout bid when Meloche scored a fluke goal during a third-period power play, then was bailed out by both goal posts on the shift right before Straka’s final goal.
Mike York intercepted Lundqvist’s attempt at an empty-net goal and scored to make it 3-2 with 21.4 seconds left.
That was the extent of Philadelphia’s offence while playing again without captain Peter Forsberg, who missed the game due to a groin injury sustained Tuesday. Forsberg is expected to be sidelined seven to 10 days, which doesn’t bode well for the Flyers – 0-10-3 without him.
“It’s not an excuse,” forward Simon Gagne said. “We are a good team with Peter and we’re a good team without him.
“You never know when Peter is going to be in the lineup, so you have to be ready for it.”
New York held a 15-5 shots advantage through the first 20 minutes and then doubled the lead when each team registered four shots in the second.
Philadelphia had a prime chance to get back in it late in the middle frame with a 5-on-3 power play but managed only two shots during the overall advantage that lasted 3:28.
“We were looking to get something going there,” Gagne said. “You’re not going to score when you get nine shots.”
Meloche cut the Flyers’ deficit to 2-1 at 4:03 of the third when defenceman Joni Pitkanen’s pass from behind the Rangers net hit him in the right skate and caromed in off Lundqvist.
Nylander set up the first goal, stick-handling in the left corner and then feeding a pass in front for a quick one-timer. Straka then fired in a loose puck as Esche lunged across the goal crease 5:29 into the second.
Straka is only two goals behind teammate Brendan Shanahan, who along with Jagr, has gone a season-worst seven games without a goal.
Notes: Rangers C Blair Betts signed a two-year contract extension . . . Flyers RW Sami Kapanen, who missed one game after sustaining a concussion Sunday against Carolina, returned . . . G Antero Niittymaki served as Esche’s backup. He sat out three games (hip) . . . Straka scored a career-high 35 goals with Pittsburgh during the 1998-99 season . . . Rangers D Marek Malik returned after a six-game absence (groin).