TAMPA – O.K., so there are still flaws with the Flyers.
One all-too-short seven-game stretch of inspired play is not going to dictate a season. Just like one horrid eight-game stretch at the start of the hockey year wasn’t going to be the prevailing portion of the seven-month campaign either.
Seasons have lots of ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns. Needless to say, Wednesday’s pre-holiday tilt against the Lightning made a sharp right turn downhill for the Flyers.
Playing as listlessly as they have since being shutout at home by New Jersey three weeks ago, and maybe looking even worse in the process, the Flyers dropped a 4-2 contest to the Lightning in the homecoming game for Vinny Lecavalier.
If it’s pointed out that there was an empty net goal in the game for the Lightning, signifying a one-goal game, one would think it was a close contest.
Well, that’s hardly the case.
The Lightning dominated play, winning a lot of little, in game battles – on the boards, in the faceoff circles, forcing turnovers, getting sticks in lanes, blocking shots – you know, the things teams need to do to win games.
The Flyers on the other hand, missed more shots than they actually got on goal, and didn’t score until posting goals 40 seconds apart in the final two minutes of the game to make it interesting for all for about 39 seconds.
“I don’t think we competed hard enough in the battles tonight, right from the start of the game,” coach Craig Berube said. “They came hard with pressure and forechecked hard and we didn’t handle it. We didn’t compete on the walls and battle the puck out and do all the little things that needed to be done.”
It’s why the game was played predominantly in the Flyers end. It’s why goalie Ray Emery was under constant duress. Although he let in a softie on a weird angle shot by Victor Hedman for the first goal midway through the second period, Emery played well enough to keep the Flyers in the game, finishing with 31 saves.
“I think you can just tell we were waiting for kind of a spark to get us going,” Emery said. “The first goal kind of deflated us for a while… Sometimes you need to make your own luck and we just didn’t get that little break to fire us up.
“There’s no excuse for not being motivated. There’s tons of stuff that could have gotten us motivated – with Vinny coming back her, or putting ourselves in a better position in the playoff picture – it’s disappointing to come out like we did.”
The Flyers had no trouble getting shots on goal in recent games, but were seriously deficient against Tampa, getting only 21 shots. They had 22 that either missed the net or were blocked.
Getting shots wasn’t even the issue though as much as it was just getting into the offensive zone. The Flyers really struggled with the Lightning pressure and had trouble simply setting up shop in Tampa’s end.
“You have to handle adversity better than we do right now,” Berube said. “Teams are going to come at us hard and play us hard and we have to be able to handle that, be composed and stick together as a team out there and play.”
That was certainly missing Wednesday.
The momentum shifted on a shorthanded goal by Ondrej Palat in the second period. Already trailing 1-0, the Flyers were on the power play and a shot by Kimmo Timonen was blocked and quickly tipped ahead by heady Tampa defenseman Andrej Sustr.
Hedman took it and skated most of the way up the ice with only Timonen back. A couple Flyers forwards – namely Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek - had a chance to catch up on the play but never could.
Hedman shot, Emery made a save, but the rebound went right to an unmarked Palat for a shorthanded marker.
Asked if he felt the forwards could have skated more to help Timonen in that situation, Berube answered in the affirmative.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said.
Giroux and Voracek along with fellow line mate Scott Hartnell had a tough night, despite Giroux stretching his point streak to six games.
“[They were] not very good – like a lot of other guys,” Berube said. “They didn’t do a good enough job. They have to lead the way. They didn’t make enough plays and they looked frustrated.”
The frustration was almost wiped away unexpectedly in the final minutes though.
Lecavalier scored on a one-timer on the power play to make it 3-1 with less than two minutes to play and Mark Streit scored on a blast from the point 40 seconds later to make it 3-2 with 1:13 left in the game.
But as the Flyers pulled Emery, Lecavalier had the puck knocked off his stick at the Tampa blue line and the speedy Tyler Johnson beat Streit to the puck and scored on the empty net to ice it for Tampa.
“Execution wasn’t there,” Lecavalier said. “They played a good game, had a lot of puck possession and capitalized on their chances… We didn’t win and I’m disappointed with that.”
Nevertheless, the Flyers get to come home for a game Friday before they head back on the road for a six-game trip, and they will try to turn things back around there.
In order to do that, they’ll have to bury this Florida two-step and they’ll have to do that by dry cleaning their mistakes, not just ironing them out so that the wrinkles return.
“We didn’t play to the best of our ability,” said Wayne Simmonds, who missed on a penalty shot in the first period. “We were a little bit too fancy (again) and didn’t get our pucks deep. I don’t think we supported each other enough on breakouts. That’s why we didn’t get too many shots, because we couldn’t get the puck out of our zone cleanly… We have to go home, regroup and go back to the drawing board… It sucks and it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get any points out of this little trip but we have to go forward and play to the best of our ability at home and the two week road trip that we have.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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