Here's what's wrong with the Philadelphia Flyers: a struggling franchise goalie, a defense plagued by injuries and an offense heavily dependent on inexperienced players.
Friday night’s game against Anaheim was a microcosm of the Flyers’ season thus far, and if the end result is an indication of things to come, the Flyers will certainly take it.
The Ducks opened the scoring with a goal that net-minder Ilya Bryzgalov would like to have back, as his premature poke-check attempt on Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano allowed Cogliano to poke the puck between Bryzgalov’s legs.
While Bryzgalov has not been bad this season, the Flyers have found themselves losing leads and falling behind on shots that the City of Philadelphia expects the Russian net-minder to save. His lack of flashiness has put more pressure on the defense to tighten up and force low-percentage shots that Bryzgalov can handle more easily.
Enter a third defensive pair with zero games NHL experience before this season.
Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall have found themselves on the everyday roster since Chris Pronger, Andreas Lilja and Erik Gustafsson were sidelined by injuries.
In the first period of Friday’s game, Bourdon found himself on the ice with veteran Braydon Coburn as the Flyers tried to clear the zone. Anaheim’s Matt Belesky drew Claude Giroux behind the net. Bourdon left his post in front of Bryzgalov to put a big hit on Belesky.
Unfortunately, Belesky had passed the puck to Saku Koivu, who found Teemu Selanne in the high crease—right where Bourdon should have been.
Selanne easily beat Bryzgalov to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead with Bourdon’s inexperience appearing to be the guilty party.
On the third goal, both Bourdon and Marshall found themselves facing a 3-on-2. The Flyers’ defensemen got bunched up as Ben Maxwell went wide. Maxwell’s rebound found its way to Andrew Gordon, whose first tally in nearly a year gave the Ducks an imposing three-goal lead.
Facing a frustrating road loss at the hands of shaky goaltending and unreliable defense, the Flyers’ veterans—while few in number—found a way to take over the game.
Kimmo Timonen, the focus of the defensive core in the absence of Chris Pronger, would assist on all three of Philadelphia’s regulation goals.
On a power-play in the second period, Timonen found the puck on his stick following a face-off. With Jaromir Jagr skating in front of Jonas Hiller as a screen, Timonen took a wrist shot that redirected off of Jagr’s body and found its way between Hiller’s legs.
In the third, the Flyers were on a 5-on-3 advantage when Jagr fed Timonen in the high slot. Timonen immediately passed the puck back to Jagr, who had a clear shot at the net. The one-timer brought Philadelphia within one.
Timonen’s big night came to a head with less than four minutes remaining when the shifty defenseman carried the puck behind the net. With four Flyers crashing the net, the Anaheim defense fell apart and Timonen found Scott Hartnell outside the crease.
Hartnell easily beat Hiller to tie the game.
In overtime, the Flyers got a fortunate four-minute power-play when Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf’s soft hook on Jakub Voracek drew a call (perhaps a make-up for an equally soft call on Voracek at the end of the third period). Getzlaf’s reaction drew the ire of the ref, who assessed an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Danny Briere would draw the attention of the Anaheim defense and Hiller, allowing him to make a quick pass to Giroux who one-timed the puck into an open net to cap the comeback.
The stats sheet shows exactly how the Flyers won: the veterans dominated play.
Anaheim managed only five shots in the third period and overtime combined, as Timonen, Jagr and Co. controlled the flow of the game and kept the heat on Hiller.
Jagr and Timonen each had three-point nights; Giroux, Hartnell and Briere had two-point nights. No other Flyer found himself on the score-sheet.
While the team will be unable to rely entirely on these five players long-term, the second half of Friday’s game was a statement about how the Flyers handle pressure.
The veterans know when to step up. The team can crack down and find reserves of energy in crunch time. The leaders never consider themselves down and out.
Coach Peter Laviolette’s responsibility is to find a way to get Bryzgalov, the defense and the young offensive players—Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier—into the mentality that Friday night’s stars found.
Perhaps, this year, the Flyers are a tad too young to compete with the NHL’s elite. But for a squad plagued by injuries and reliant on inexperienced players, the focus is on the long-term future.
Games like this one, where veterans set the bar a little higher for youngsters, are a big step toward that future.