NEW YORK – There are so many things that go into a gameplan for a hockey team.
And sometimes, the biggest frustration for a coach as he watches that plan get implemented is when his team misses the simplest of details.
And so it went for the Flyers Tuesday, as they watched a strong first period melt away behind a series of mistakes that led to three Rangers goals and a deflating 4-2 loss to the Broadway Blue Shirts at Madison Square Garden.
Rick Nash scored two goals, including the game-winner, and Flyer-killer Ryan Callahan scored the other two as the Rangers vaulted the Flyers for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s not like we were under siege,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think we shot ourselves in the foot too many times. There weren’t a lot of chances both ways, but we made more mistakes than they did and that’s why they won the game.”
The Flyers jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first period on goals by Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek, but the momentum they built slipped away when Callahan scored in the final minute of the period to tie the score.
Sprinting down the left wing, Callahan patiently waited out a sliding Luke Schenn then deked around a poke check by Ilya Bryzgalov before stuffing it into the net to tie the score with 41 seconds to play in the period.
“Giving up the goal in the last minute can’t happen,” Simmonds said. “We didn’t play as well as we could have [after that] and it obviously cost us the game.”
The second period was like a defensive soccer match – a lot of possession changes in the neutral zone but few shots and even fewer real chances – as the game remained tied.
But in the third period, the Flyers were victimized not once – but twice – by bad line changes by the defensive units.
Minus Nick Grossmann, who left the game after the first period with a lower-body injury, the Flyers were forced to rotate five defensemen, which sometimes makes for disjointed changes, and it cost them.
The first one found Schenn on an island by himself as the other two defensemen were switching and Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi took advantage, hitting Nash in stride.
Schenn couldn’t make it over to the wing in time and Nash snapped a nasty wrister past Bryzgalov for 3-2 at 2:50 of the third period.
Nash struck again on another confusing change of defensemen, this time on the left wing, as he made a move similar to Callahan’s at the end of the first period that swooped around a flailing poke check by Bryzgalov sliding the puck into the net.
“There have been too many of them,” Laviolette said of mistakes as a result of line changes. “We’ve had too many discussions and too many topics about line changes and they just need to be executed.”
Kimmo Timnonen agreed with his coach, saying the mistakes were more about the Flyers mental errors and not a flaw in the schematic.
“To me those are mental issues not system issues,” Timonen said. “It’s about reading the play and staying on the ice – you can’t change. Those things should be easy to fix. It’s more mental. Sometimes if you are tired you have to stay on the ice… It cost us the game today.”
Callahan opened the scoring for the Rangers with a slam dunk power play goal on a cross-ice pass from Derek Stepan just 1:30 into the game.
But the Flyers answered quickly as their own power play scored with a tic-tac-toe passing effort from Voacek to Claude Giroux to Simmonds for the goal.
The power play came through again later in the period when Simmonds returned the favor – sort of – setting up Voracek for his 10th goal of the season.
But losing Grossmann, who will be re-evaluated by doctors Wednesday, combined with the tying goal by Callahan, proved to be the Flyers (11-12-1, 23 points) undoing as they reached the halfway point of the season.
Up next is a critical game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Wells Fargo Center Thursday, and the Flyers need to turn it around as quickly as possible against a tough opponent in hopes of starting the second half of the season on a better note than the first half ended.
“All of our games are big but the next game is going to be the biggest game of the season,” said Giroux. “We need to find a way to motivate ourselves whoever the other team is and we have to find a way to play our best and keep getting better as a team.”
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