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Getting back on track

Jay Greenberg looks at how the Flyers can get back to their winning ways

Friday, 01.17.2014 / 11:19 AM ET / News
By Jay Greenberg  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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Getting back on track

Bless the Flyers, they never think they are beaten, even while they are beating themselves.

Wayne Simmonds’ nifty redirection with Steve Mason pulled Thursday night brought them from behind in the third period for eighth time in the last 21 games, saving a point that -- who knows? -- may turn out to be one that puts them into the playoffs. But was that a stick in Simmonds’ hands deflecting a puck or a mirror averting light, blinding the team again to its issues?

If Steve Mason, who had two chances at it, could have made one more shootout save to win the game, those never-say-die Flyers would have been celebrated again. Mason didn’t, so all the things the Flyers did to put themselves behind so late came out in the wash, including giveaways in the first period that led, in Michael Raffl’s case, to a tying goal and, in Jake Voracek’s case, the power-play lead goal.

Mason has to pick it up a notch to get back to the level he was at through most of December. But he made two big saves in the third period that gave Simmonds the chance to be the hero and then stopped the first three Nashville shootout attempts, So while the goalie taking responsibility may have been the good, team, thing to do, you don’t blame the rescuer who just can’t hold on any longer for the plunge of the daredevil who chose to run along the very edge of the cliff.

The Flyers are scoring goals, but no so many that they can afford the defensive slippage that has left them with just one win in the last four games, Twenty of their 34 remaining games are at home, but that includes two against Boston, one each against Chicago and St Louis, San Jose and the Rangers, teams that are a lot more practiced at playing with a lead than are the Flyers.

Most NHL games are won by getting ahead and staying ahead, a model the Flyers have followed for wins only in Calgary and against Montreal during this extended high wire dash. When they get to March, there will be increasingly less net below. The long journey across the tightrope has to begin with that good, safe pass out of the zone that the Flyers increasingly are not being careful enough to make.

Andrej Meszaros, who scored a gorgeous goal up over Hutton’s shoulder on a smart feed from the red-hot Simmonds to rescue a bad Flyers second period into a 2-2 tie, may not exactly be Barry Ashbee back there, but his play has picked up enough to earn the floor as a teller of great truths:

“That’s a tough break, [Nick Grossman} following through and a guy runs into his stick and getting a four-minute penalty that put us behind again,” said Meszaros. “But we didn’t play very well defensively.

“[Nashville] had a good forecheck and cycle game. We couldn’t handle that. If we take care of the puck in out own zone, we have the ability to score goals, but its tough to play behind all the time.”

Craig Berube admits that after an almost two month stretch of the Flyers showing increasing ability to lock things down, they are again fumbling in their pockets for the key. The next question, to be answered soon: Is this just ebb in a flow that has been trending upwards from the bad start? Or a fatal flaw?

“Early in the season we were better defensively and couldn’t score,” said Claude Giroux. “It’s going to go up and down, but [Berube’s] right, we need to know what we are doing out there.”

To correct some slippage, a few more practice days would help. But there aren’t many of those during a compressed Olympic-year schedule, and anyway, as much as Flyers like Timonen credit Berube’s drills for their run back into contention, there weren’t many practice days available for them even when they were surging.

Following October’s month-long catatonia, the offense has been a reassuring sight. Now so would be some attention to details. The Flyers really aren’t much more talented than most of their competition to make the playoffs. So it’s the defensive basics that either are going to get them in or leave them out.

SCHEDULE

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 54 31 18 5 153 135 67
4 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
5 DET 54 28 18 8 136 132 64
6 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
7 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
8 PIT 53 27 19 7 138 135 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
12 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
15 BUF 55 21 28 6 125 151 48
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Giroux 53 16 29 -8 45
J. Voracek 53 8 35 -3 43
W. Simmonds 53 20 16 -7 36
B. Schenn 51 15 15 1 30
S. Gostisbehere 35 9 20 4 29
S. Couturier 40 9 15 9 24
M. Read 51 9 9 -5 18
M. Raffl 53 7 7 5 14
S. Laughton 52 4 10 -7 14
M. Del Zotto 51 4 9 -8 13
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 13 14 7 .917 2.65
M. Neuvirth 11 6 2 .933 2.14
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