It seems there are always trends when things aren't going right for a hockey club, and the recent funk the Philadelphia Flyers have been experiencing is no different. In posting a 2-2-2 record since just before the NHL All-Star break, something that stands out is the slow starts the Flyers have been getting out of the gates in each contest.
- In a much-anticipated rematch with the Boston Bruins after a 6-0 beat down administered at the hands of the B's in mid-December, Boston again jumped out to an early lead when Patrice Bergeron scored just 50 seconds into the game. What makes it even worse is that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was called upon to make a stop on a Chris Kelly breakaway less than 10 seconds into the contest, so it was obvious Philly was back on its collective heels from the outset. The Bruins went on to win, 6-5, in a thrilling game that, unfortunately, needed the shootout to decide the outcome.
- Playing the Panthers in South Florida in their last match before the break, winger Mikael Samuelsson scored his first of two goals on the night while on an early power play just 2:49 after the opening faceoff. The Flyers went on to record their first (and still only) win in a shootout of the current campaign.
- In their first contest back from the respite in the schedule, Philadelphia didn't even register a shot on goal until 13:35 had been played in the opening period, shortly after beginning a power play. Brayden Schenn ended up scoring the game's first goal on that man advantage, but proceeded to go almost six minutes without sending a shot on Ondrej Pavelec in begin the second and allowed the game to be tied. They put the pedal to the metal in a scoreless third period and outshot the Winnipeg Jets by a 13-4 count, before eventually losing in the dreaded shootout.
- The Flyers again weren't ready for the opening faceoff against the Nashville Predators two nights later, being outshot, 12-6 in the first period. A good thing for the Orange-and-Black that night was Bryzgalov was one of the few players who answered the opening bell, holding the Preds off the scoreboard while Wayne Simmonds tallied late in the opening session to stake the Flyers to a 1-0 lead at the first intermission in the eventual 4-1 Philadelphia victory.
- Saturday's 6-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils was a nightmare from the start, and it's obvious the Flyers were not prepared. New Jersey had a two-man advantage almost immediately and scored three minutes into the contest, holding a 3-0 lead after just one period. The Devils led in shots on goal, 17-7, and took full advantage of special teams throughout in building a nearly insurmountable 6-0 lead on Sergei Bobrovsky heading into the third. That's when Philly ramped up their level of play in outshooting New Jersey by a team-record 24-1 margin, scoring all four goals in the frame and nearly pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history. Nearly...
- With the momentum gained towards the end of Saturday's contest, the prevailing train of thought was the team would benefit by taking it to the New York Rangers early in their Super Bowl Sunday matinee yesterday. Things did not work out that way at all, as Artem Anisimov deflected a Dan Girardi shot past Bryzgalov just 1:04 into the game. Philadelphia did not even counter with their first shot on Henrik Lundqvist until 9:13 had elapsed in the opening frame. The Broadway Blueshirts held a 14-5 shots advantage after one stanza, and almost doubled up the shot totals by a 28-15 margin by the second intermission. The 5-2 loss to the conference-leading Rangers was yet another example of the team appearing to not be prepared for the monumental task at hand.
While the late-game efforts are encouraging to some extent, the early-game discombobulation has to be of the utmost concern to Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff. After the lost weekend in which the club dropped two matinee contests, the Flyers now are a miserable 4-7-1 in games starting before 7 p.m. EST. This has to raise a red flag, especially with a 1:00 home game this Saturday against the Rangers, and three more early starts against the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins remaining on the calendar.
Some of the verbage used following Saturday's loss to the Devils spoke volumes regarding the Flyers' lack of readiness for not only the early games, but their opponents, in general.
"Yeah, those are tough games to play," said Claude Giroux. "You wake up and you have to go play hockey. Same thing for the other teams, so we have to make sure we're fired up before the game."
Laviolette was asked after the New Jersey game whether his team's strong play in the third would give them a much-needed boost at the start against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. He said the coaches made a request of the players at the second intermission.
"We asked the guys to play well in the third period," he said. "They went out, they played well and they gave it their best. We came up short and we're leaving here with a loss so I guess that's how we'll look at it."
"I guess it's unexplainable," reasoned Simmonds. "It's something that we can't have happen. We didn't play oiur best. Obviously, they came out and got the quick 6-0 lead."
"It’s frustrating, said Scott Hartnell. "Those first two periods, I was embarrassed to be a Philadelphia Flyer. We came out with no jam, no intensity. It’s tough to start, you know, the beginning of the game on a 5-on-3 they score, and they score another power play goal."
"I think if you get embarrassed at home the best thing to do is get back in the saddle again and go after an opponent that’s waiting for you, that’s hungry, that’s kind of owned you, like you said, three times earlier this year," Hartnell added. "So, in (Madison Square Garden), we’ve got to come out fired up like we did in that third period and just continue that momentum that we gained in that last twenty minutes."
Nice game plan if executed, but the Flyers did not completely follow through. They were outplayed early and if not for a big effort early from Bryzgalov, could have easily been trailing by a few goals. But as a result of their lack of preparedness, they suffered the consequences of yet another loss to the Rangers.
"We were down 3-0, it happens," said Jaromir Jagr. "This team proved many times that even at 3-0 we can come back. And, that’s why this team is so special. I think many players do not realize it. Everybody might think at three nothing it’s over, but this team can come back. Maybe if you play a little bit smarter, maybe finish the period 0-0, be down 3-0 after the second, we could come back. But what are we going to learn from this, there’s no question about it. Not many teams can come back, but we are one of them. "
There is no doubt Philadelphia has the firepower to stage comebacks. While this may be a "special team", but they cannot consistently keep putting themselves into a hole and expect to be able to dig out each and every time.
But if you take notice, that trio of clubs has one thing in common -- they all will not be qualifying for the postseason when the regular season ends in two more months time. The good teams -- the ones that will be participating in the playoffs -- do not allow other clubs back up off the mat when they have them down.
Despite talk of having to rectify their play at home for the rest of the schedule, Philly has continued to struggle. Almost a year after wobbling to the finish line with a horrendous 3-5-5 mark in their last 13 games at the Wells Fargo Center, the team is just 1-2-2 in their last five home encounters, and a mediocre 12-8-4 for the season.
If the Flyers want to avoid a similar slide like the one endured down the stretch last season, they had better take care of business and use their home-ice advantage, and be better prepared to come out and take charge of games right from the start.