Several Flyers Hit Milestones; Club Needs To Carry Momentum Against Top-Tier Opponents

Aside from the loss of James van Riemsdyk to a broken foot , last night's 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders provided many much-needed positives for the Philadelphia Flyers.

And they really needed it. After all, consider:

The Flyers had just come off a good effort that resulted in a disappointing 1-0 shutout loss to the struggling San Jose Sharks to cap a 2-2-0 road trip; one that saw them blanked twice, and dropped them to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference standings.

One of the more disturbing aspects to the season for the Orange-and-Black has been their propensity for losing games at home. Once one of the most intimidating cities for visiting players to travel, the Flyers had won just 14 of their first 29 games (14-10-5) at the Wells Fargo Center entering last night's action. Included in that total is a terrible 3-4-3 performance over their previous 10 home games.

When the team was in a slump in season's past, seeing the Islanders as an upcoming opponent usually brought about a rather quick cure for whatever ailed the Flyers at the time. But that hadn't been the case thus far in 2011-12. Heading into last night's contest, New York had skated away with victories in both meetings in South Philly this season.

There were three Philadelphia skaters mired in double-digit goal-scoring slumps. Danny Briere hadn't lit the lamp in the 17 games since notching a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators on January 7; Sean Couturier also hadn't scored in his last 17, which immediately followed a five-game streak in which he had scored a goal in each; and Matt Read, at one time looking like a potential Calder Trophy candidate, had not dented the twine in his last 12.

While Briere's streak reached 18 games, the rookies both contributed offensively.

By scoring two goals and assisting on another, Read broke out of his drought in a big way, and lifted a pretty heavy weight from his shoulders.

"Yeah, it was kind of getting to me the last three or four games, frustrated," Read said. "Working too hard, I guess, and gripping the stick too tight when you actually get the puck."

Peter Laviolette said even though he hadn't hit the score sheet in a while, his 25-year-old rookie has been playing well all along.

"I think he was still playing hard, even though he wasn’t getting points like maybe he wanted to," the head coach noted. "But I think he’s been strong the entire year, I think you just notice him a little bit more when he’s on the scoreboard, obviously."

Couturier played his usual stellar defensive game, then netted an empty net goal in the game's closing minute after gathering in an alley oop pass from Claude Giroux and banking a shot off an Isles' defender.

It was Giroux's third helper of the night and gave him 52 for the year, which is one more than last season's total and set a new career-high for the team's leading scorer. In the process, he became the first Flyer to record 50 or more assists in two consecutive seasons since Mark Recchi did it during the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 campaigns. As a matter of fact, Giroux joined some pretty exclusive company by accomplishing the feat. In addition to Recchi, the only other two Flyers to post 50 or more assists in consecutive seasons are Bobby Clarke (eight consecutive seasons from 1972-73 to 1979-80), and Brian Propp (1983-84 to 1085-86).

When credited with assists on Jaromir Jagr's second period goal, both Pavel Kubina and Kimmo Timonen hit milestones.

Playing in his fifth game since being acquired by Philadelphia from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Kubina picked up his first point as a Flyer.

Timonen became the 55th defenseman in NHL history to reach the 500-point plateau, and the sixth active rear guard to achieve the mark. It was also his 199th point in a Flyers' uniform, which moved him past Joe Watson into fifth place on the franchise's all-time scoring list.

Deservedly, the defenseman received a really nice ovation from the home crowd.

"I really appreciated it, obviously," Timonen said after the game. "It's been 14 years, if you go back to 1993 when I got drafted, I was a small guy and to be honest not many people thought I could do it (play in the NHL). You know, in 1998 I got to play in Nashville. I had great years there, and I've had a pretty good five years here. It's actually a pretty nice feeling."

When Scott Hartnell ripped home a one-timer from the slot early in the third period, the left winger set a career-high with his 31st goal of the season, topping his 2008-09 total.

His head coach was impressed.

"I think Scott, I thought he had a strong game," assessed Laviolette. "His work is really, you can see it. It's visible energy on the ice. He's skating, he's competing for pucks, he's coming up with pucks in second effort."

Laviolette then pointed out the work of the entire line with which Hartnell skates.

"He's on a good line, and that line was real strong tonight," he said. "Jaromir was strong, Claude was strong. They had the puck quite a bit in the offensive zone on that cycle. They did a nice job."

While the victory came at a time the team really needed it, what's ultimately important is what the club does moving forward. There can be no lost points in situations where the Flyers are expected to win, as each game from here on out will likely hold the same magnitude as last night. Philly entered the night in sixth place, but depending on the outcome of their matchup with the Isles, as well as the New Jersey Devils tilt with the Boston Bruins, the Flyers could have finished the evening either fifth, sixth, or even seventh in the East.

"This is a big win for us, and hopefully we can find our confidence, play well the next couple games and just go from there," Read appropriately pointed out.

It is paramount, as 11 of the final 19 Flyer contests come against opponents that are currently sitting in playoff spots if the season ended today. Four more games are against teams -- with a pair remaining against both the Washington Capitals and the fast-fading Toronto Maple Leafs -- that are on the postseason bubble.

For the record, Philly is barely over .500 versus teams currently in the playoff mix at 16-15-3. That will obviously have to improve down the stretch.

As for what Laviolette hopes for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs?

"I certainly wish the health was there and continue to stay healthy," Laviolette said. "There are things I think we can do better defensively and then in some other games I think there are things we can do better offensively. We didn't generate a whole lot in San Jose, it's continually a work in progress, trying to hit your stride down the stretch here as you enter the playoffs."

Bad Luck for van Riemsdyk Continues

In an unfortunate turn of events, van riemsdyk made a really nice play to block a Milan Jurcina slap shot from the point last night, but it was evident he was hit in a prone position.

Somehow JvR, who sprawled along the ice to get in front of the shot, had the presence of mind to struggle to his knees, gain control of the puck, and send it out of harms way out of the Philadelphia zone.

Unfortunately, the 22-year-old's rough year -- in which he missed over a month after suffering a concussion in January -- got a lot more difficult, as he sustained a broken left foot for his troubles.

Van Riemsdyk's hustle was not lost on his teammates...or his coach.

"All losses are big because guys...we count on them to fill a bunch of different roles on our team," said Laviolette in his post-game press conference. "It's been a tough go for him. He's just coming back from being out of the lineup for quite an extended period of time (with the concussion). He gets back and strts skating, plays a few games, and now another setback for him."

"It is amazing," said goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who quietly posted his fourth win in the last six decisions. "When you can see the guys like [James van Riemsdyk] and [Brayden] Schenn sacrifice themselves and just put themselves in front of a one hundred mile an hour rubber puck. They just don't let the puck go to the goalie. It is amazing. It gives a boost to the team. It says hey like this guy battles and we have to battle, too. Then we get back to the game and we score two goals and continue to push the pace of the game to the highest tempo. Eventually, it pays off very well."

"JVR's first blocked shot gets a broken foot, so you feel bad for the guy," said Hartnell. "It's frustrating obviously. I think he was finally getting his timing back from his concussion and I'm sure he'll be out 4-6 weeks I'm guessing."

After contemplating it a bit, Hartnell then offered what could be viewed as a positive spin.

"I'm not a doctor, but you look for a blessing in disguise, and he'll be rested and ready to go come playoff time."

It would seem that would be some well-deserved karma in what has been a tough season for van Riemsdyk.

Grossman Making His Point(s)

Defenseman Nicklas Grossman has never been much of an offensive threat, but has been on the score sheet quite a bit since moving east. The defensive-minded rear guard, who had all of five assists in 52 games this season with the Dallas Stars before being acquired by the Flyers two weeks ago, picked up his fourth assist in just six games in Philadelphia.

Grossman has been an excellent fit on the club's blue line, and has provided some stability to a beleaguered Philly defensive unit. In addition to his assist last night, he did all the things that are expected of him -- he blocked three shots, was credited with three hits, and was a +2 in the plus / minus ratings.

At just 27 years of age, it's not tough to imagine Paul Holmgren will want to sign the pending UFA to a contract extension before he hits the open market.

Taking a Flyer: Defenseman Andrej Meszaros had a solid outing. He scored a goal and added two assists, had four shots on goal, recorded two blocked shots and three hits, while posting a +2 rating.....Wayne Simmonds was again a force in the corners and along the wall. He also assisted on Read's first tally, rumbling into the Islanders' zone on the left wing, pulling up on the half wall, and hitting Read in the slot with a perfect pass that the rookie made no mistake in putting behind New York goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.....Jagr finished the evening with a goal and an assist.....Matt Carle logged a game-high 25:04.

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