It had all the earmarks of another one of 'those games'. The Philadelphia Flyers had basically allowed a struggling opponent in the Buffalo Sabres come into their building and control a good portion of the first 20 minutes of the contest.
Trailing 2-0 after the ugly opening period, Peter Laviolette obviously read his team the riot act during the first intermission. No one would say exactly what was said, but whatever it was, it definitely worked.
"Yeah, a lot of things were said," Maxime Talbot relayed after the game. "I'm not going to discuss what was said, exactly, but things like that happen."
After a three day layoff, the Flyers did not appeared ready to play at the opening faceoff.
"It takes a little bit of time to get your groove back, but you can't use that as an excuse," Talbot said. "The first period was embarrassing. It was definitely not the image that our team plays like, especially in front of our fans."
He's right, it was an embarrassing performance at home, layoff or not. And the coach was not amused.
"There’s really no excuse for that first period," the coach said.
But there was one player that Laviolette felt showed up during the horrible first frame, one who was injured during the pre-game skate. Winger Wayne Simmonds wasdonning the full face shield after getting hit with a puck in the warmups, and his efforts did not go unnoticed by the bench boss.
"I thought when he got back in the first period, I didn’t like a lot of what we were doing, but I didn’t mind him," he said of Simmonds' efforts. "And that’scoming right from the table and having your mouth numb like that, and teeth knocked around and everything else. He was ready from the start."
Simmonds scored two important power play goals early in the second period, tying the game at 2-2 at the 3:32 mark, then netting the eventual game-winner just over three minutes later while on another man advantage. Both goals were scored on rebounds that were in his skates, and it was no easy task tracking down the puck and depositing shots behind Jhonas Enroth while wearing the full face shield.
The two goals chased Enroth in favor of Ryan Miller, and gave Simmonds seven goals during the eight games in February and a career-high 20 goals for the season.
For all of the progress that James van Riemsdyk didnot make this season in becoming the burgeoning power forward in the Philadelphia lineup before going out with a concussion, Simmonds has been that player for the Flyers.
Simmonds has shown a propensity for playing well on the right side of a power play line with Claude Giroux at center and Scott Hartnell on the left. He has become an immovable force in front of opposition goaltenders, and continues to physically control the walls and corners.
Speaking of Giroux and Hartnell, they each had monster nights, as well.
Hartnellfinished with a goal and three assists, and Girouxended up with five assists for the game. The Flyers' leading scorer pulled to within one assist of NHL-leader Henrik Sedin's total of 46, and is now just two points short of scoring leader Evgeni Malkin's 69 points. It was Giroux's first five-assist game in the League, and the first five-assist performance for a Flyer since Alexandre Picard on February 1, 2007 against the New Jersey Devils. The five assists were just one short of the team record, held by Eric Lindros.
Talbot also played a big part in the turnaround. He also tallied twice, giving him a career-high 16 goals on the year. His deflection of a Braydon Coburn point shot just 54 seconds into the middle stanza was the culmination of a strong shift that showed the Flyers were not going to have a repeat of the first period sleepwalk.
"We weren't happy with the first period, and Max's line went out there and had a great shift and got a goal," noted Giroux of the huge swing in momentum. "It kind of got all the boys going and the second period we played great."
Other positives on the night included:
- Defenseman Erik Gustafsson's first career NHL goal, scored top shelf on Miller off a perfect feed from Jakub Voracek. Gustafsson became the seventh Flyer this season to record his first career goal, the highest number of rookies to score at least one goal in a season for the Flyers since the 1993-94 season, when eight rookies (Jason Bowen, Jim Cummins, Andre Faust, Todd Hlushko, Milos Holan, Stewart Malgunas, Mikael Renberg, Bob Wilkie) scored at least one goal.
- Voracek became the tenth Flyertoreach double digits in goals with his 10thof the season. The first-year Flyer now has 33 points on the year, good for sixth highest on the Philadelphia list of scorers, just one point behind Matt Read, and three behind Simmonds.
- With Andrej Meszaros out of the lineup due to an upper-body injury, Andreas Lilja saw his first game action since February 4, and looked pretty solid in the 18:12 of ice time he collected. With injuries and the flu both ravaging the Philly roster, players are going to need to be ready when they get the call, and Lilja was Thursday night.
- Marc-Andre Bourdon also had a very good game, one of his best in the past couple of weeks.
- With several forwards missing from the lineup, Jody Shelley played well in his first appearance since February 4. The little-used enforcer logged a season-high 11:10, getting much more ice time late in the game skating with a big lead.
- Eric Wellwood was inserted into the lineup with the absence of Jaromir Jagr (flu) and Zac Rinaldo (League suspension), and picked up a beauty of an assist on Voracek's goal. The cross-ice feed was right in Voracek's wheelhouse, and was his second helper of the season in just three games.
Unfortunately, there were also some negatives:
- The early first period coverage in the defensive zone was awful, the most-glaring being Giroux standing alone in the slot while Jason Pominville snuck away to get free and score the game's first goal.
- This one is a negative, with a positive twist. While he had no shot at the Pominville goal, the second Buffalo goal was a soft one allowed by Ilya Bryzgalov. Thomas Vanek's shot from the top of the right circle somehow eluded 'Bryz', who appeared to kick too early in an attempt to send the puck to the corner. He whiffed on the puck, and it sailed through the five-hole. In the 2-0 hole, it had all the makings of another bad Bryzgalov outing. But like the rest of the team, he shook off the bad start and calmed down the rest of the way. He ended up stopping 27 of 29 Sabres' shots to post his 20th win of the year.
- The win did not come without a price, as forward Danny Briere left the game with an upper-body injury after taking a borderline hit from Patrick Kaleta, and Tom Sestito left with a lower-body injury early in the second period after beingdropped in a fight with Zack Kassian. With Jagr already scratched with the flu and Rinaldo suspended, the remaining forwards did an excellent job in keeping an up-tempo game and pinning the Sabres in their own zone for good portions of the final two periods.
What's maddening as you watch this team is they can be so dominant when they want to, but there are too many occasions in which they don't come out ready to play to begin a game.
Especially at home, and that is troublesome. Laviolette will have to have his troops better-prepared for the opening faceoff Saturday, when the Pittsburgh Penguins skate into the Wells Fargo Center for a matinee game. Philly is just 4-8-1 for the year in games starting before 7 p.m., and the importance of late-season points against division rivals will be thrust directly into the spotlight.
There is no doubt that last night's comeback win will play a huge part in the psyche of the Flyers over the remaining portion of the schedule.
Was the comeback a season-saver? Perhaps. Losing yet another home game, and with thePenguinscoming into town tomorrow, could have made for a confidence-crushing scenario, especially with Pittsburgh and New Jersey lurking so closely in the standings. A loss to the Sabres and Pens could have snowballed into dropping from the fourth spot to sixth in the East by the end of the weekend.
Buffalo is struggling through a bad season, and winning against them should not be compared to an achievment such as finally having beaten the New York Rangers thisyear. But confidence is an all-important element in any aspect of professional sports, and the performance over the last two periods in last night's victory should definitely provide a good amount heading into the Saturday showdown with the Penguins.