Getting back on track
Jay Greenberg looks at how the Flyers can get back to their winning ways
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.