It's called stepping up in the face of adversity, and that's exactly what Ilya Bryzgalov and his Philadelphia Flyers teammates did Sunday night in a 1-0 win at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
It was announced late in the afternoon that two of Philly's top four defensemen, Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros, are listed as "out indefinitely" with lower body injuries. In their place in the lineup against the Caps were Andreas Lilja, a healthy scratch in 11 of the last 12 games, and Erik Gustafsson, who was recalled earlier in the day from the Adirondack Phantoms.
Ironically, the Flyers responded with one of their best defensive efforts of the season. Sure, they yielded 34 shots on goal against a Capitals team that is struggling to score goals -- this was Washington's second consecutive home shutout loss -- but it's exactly the same premise as the old saying about the good teams beating the teams they should defeat.
As Alex Ovechkin (seven shots on goal) and Alexander Semin (three shots) shot blanks all night, there were several keys to Philadelphia's gutty performance:
- After allowing several high quality scoring chances early in the contest, the Flyers' defensive effort improved as the game progressed. Many of the Caps' opportunities after the midway point of regulation were from the perimeter, and there were no rebound chances provided by Bryzgalov and the Philly defense.
- Bryzgalov was on his game, showing yet another glimpse of the goaltender the Flyers knew they were getting when he inked the 9-year, $51.5 million free agent pact last summer. He was solid in all facets of his game, but perhaps his best stop of the night was on a breakaway by ex-Flyer Mike Knuble with just over 13 minutes remaining in the second period (watch the sequence here).
- Getting the first goal of the game for the first time in the last 10 showed how much better the team plays with the lead than having to continually come back from early deficits. If the Flyers had allowed the first goal, it could very well had been Philadelphia that was shutout, something that has been the case for the Flyers in two of the previous four tilts coming into Sunday night's action.
- It wasn't the usual suspects that got the only goal they needed. It wasn't the Claude Giroux line, it wasn't Wayne Simmonds or Maxime Talbot. The game's only goal was netted by the fourth line, an Eric Wellwood deflection in the slot of a Pavel Kubina point shot that beat Caps' netminder Michal Neuvirth (watch the goal here). This is the type of contribution all the better teams in the League require from time-to-time, and it earned the inconsistent Flyers their first back-to-back-victories in almost two months.
- In what was a tremendously physical contest, Philly skaters played with a much-needed composure and did not allow the Capitals a single solitary power play chance. That was a big thing as the team's penalty kill has been atrocious, and one of the reasons for their recent bout of misfortune.
- While Washington skaters blocked just eight Flyers' attempted shots, the Flyers muted 15 Caps' shots, which includes a game-high six by recently-acquired Nicklas Grossman. He also delivered six hits, which tied Ovechkin for the most in the game. The Swedish-born rear guard has fit in nicely on Philly's blue line, and it's hard to imagine Holmgren not signing the pending UFA to a contract extension. His play and number eight uniform number is reminiscent of one of the top defensive-defenseman in the franchise's history, Brad Marsh.
The defensive corps gave a yeomen's effort. Braydon Coburn led the way in time on ice with 24:20, while the others saw time as evenly distributed as we've seen from Peter Laviolette's squad in recent times: Grossman 22:33, Matt Carle 21:30, Kubina 19:06, Gustafsson 15:24, Lilja 15:02.
And there was a bit of adversity experienced by some of the skaters who were healthy enough to play:
- Gustafsson was absolutely drilled by Troy Brouwer along the wall in the game's opening minutes. The hit provided such force, it actually knocked open the latched door of the Capitals' bench (watch the hit here).
- Kubina missed a bit of time after being hit in the face with the puck, went to the locker room to get some quick stitches, then came right back to continue to contribute.
- Talbot was on a partial breakaway when Dmitry Orlov took an angle and appeared to grab a shoulder, sending the Flyers' forward twisting awkwardly into the boards, which he hit squarely at high speed, and back-first. No penalty was called on the Caps' defender, and Talbot was none too happy at the non-call.
The forwards did an excellent job of helping out in the defensive effort. There was little separation between the forwards and blue liners, which kept Washington skaters playing along the perimeter, and kept Bryzgalov's sight-lines open.
It's amazing how much better a goaltender can play when he can actually see the shots he's attempting to stop.
By virtue of the triumph, the Flyers gained two valuable points in the Eastern Conference standings. The win pulled Philly to within two points of the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins, and moved them two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils and three in front of the Ottawa Senators. Philadelphia holds a game in hand on NJ and three on Ottawa.
They Were Merely Freshmen
Many critics of Paul Holmgren's offseason maneuverings asked the question "Where are the goals going to come from without Jeff Carter and Mike Richards?" The answer is "From everyone."
One area of contribution is the club's first-year players. Wellwood's goal -- his second in only his sixth game of the year -- was the 46th of the season scored by Flyers' rookie, which represents 22.1% of the team's offensive output for the season.
Taking a Flyer: Laviolette's timeout magic, which had not worked for some time until Thursday night against the New York Islanders, worked again tonight, as Wellwood's goal came shortly after the coach's pep talk.....Another bit of good karma for the defensive unit was both assists on the Wellwood tally went to defensemen -- Kubina, who shot the puck, and Carle.....With the shutout, Bryzgalov became just the third Flyers' goaltender to notch at least three shutouts in a single season since the lockout -- Martin Biron had five in 2007-08, and Ray Emery posted three during his only (injury-plagued) year in Philly, 2009-10.....It was also the first 1-0 shutout by a Flyers' netminder since Antero Niittymaki pulled off the feat on December 30, 2007.....The Flyers failed to score on their lone PP chance, while the Caps had none. It was incredible there weren't more penalties called in such a physical affair, but other than fighting majors to Scott Hartnell (coming to the defense of Gustafsson after the huge) and Brouwer, the only other infraction whistled was a Jason Chimera slashing minor.....Despite logging a high amount of ice time among Philly forwards (18:51), Danny Briere's goal-scoring drought reached 19 games.....Jaromir Jagr posted a team-high four shots on goal.