NEWARK, N.J. – Every hockey game is filled with turnovers, mistakes, blown coverages, missed opportunities and the like.
It’s how the sport is played today. The team who makes the fewest errors on the ice usually wins.
The Flyers have had games like that, where they were the team making less mistakes, and forcing them on the opposition.
Friday, though, was not one of those nights.
It was early, as the Flyers played a sensational opening period, despite allowing a goal on the game’s first shift, but in the second period and then the third, they imploded on themselves, giving up a two-goal lead and ultimately losing to the New Jersey Devils 5-3.
All of New Jersey’s tallies came as the result of mistakes and turnovers by the Flyers, something that seems to be plaguing the team this season.
“That’s unacceptable that [the goals] come off turnovers,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “We have to take care of the puck, make good decisions and be in the right spots defensively. [We have to] defend the rush properly. These are things we continue to harp on and look at, but giving up two goals in the first minute of each period is not a good way to start the period.”
And that was the difference for the Flyers.
On the opening shift of the game, Wayne Simmonds lost a puck at the Flyers blue line when he got tangled up with Devils defenseman Mark Fayne.
Ilya Kovalchuk, who finished with three assists for the Devils, swooped in and collected the puck before feeding a streaking Travis Zajac who beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov under his stick-side arm for the opening goal, 40 seconds into the game.
The Flyers took over from there, getting three goals in a span of 2:36 – the fastest three goals they have ever scored on Martin Brodeur, according to the Elias Sports Bureau – but that didn’t stop them from coughing up the puck at inopportune times.
Alexi Ponikarovsky, playing his first game after being re-acquired in a trade by the Devils, scored 26 seconds into the second period as a dump-in by Claude Giroux was right on Brodeur’s stick and he quickly sent an outlet pass to Kovalchuk who baited Luke Schenn too far to the middle of the defensive zone, allowing Ponikarovsky to get free on the wing.
Kovalchuk made a perfect pass and Ponikarovsky sniped a shot upstairs over Bryzgalov’s shoulder to trim the Flyers lead to 3-2.
Kimmo Timonen, who left the game after the second period with a lower body injury, was the next Flyer to turn the puck over in his own end, uncharacteristically throwing it into traffic rather than rimming it around the glass to a part of the zone where Max Talbot was all alone.
Waiting for the puck was Kovalchuk who quickly fed Patrik Elias for a one-timer from the high slot that squeezed through Bryzgalov and squirted over the goal line to tie the score.
“I think they had one scoring chance beside the goal they scored in the third period,” Laviolette said.
Well, it was more than that… but not by much, as the Devils only had 19 shots on goal in the game.
In the third period Matt Read tried to stuff a shot past Brodeur at the side of the net, but Brodeur made the save, and the Devils rushed up the ice to set up shop in the Flyers zone.
Hustling back, Read was able to gain possession of the puck, but his clearing attempt was knocked down by Adam Larsson at the point. He took a shot and David Clarkson, who has suddenly turned into a potent goal scorer, redirected it past Bryzgalov for his 10th goal of the season.
“We gave the puck to Brodeur the whole game and that [makes it] pretty easy for him,” Giroux said. “Overall we played a pretty good game, but when it’s 3-3 going into the third we have to find a way to get that win.”
They were well on their way early on in the contest.
After giving up the first goal, Wayne Simmonds tied it for the Flyers taking a pass from Brayden Schenn on the power play and surprising Brodeur with a no-look backhander that got through and into the net.
It was the Flyers lone power play of the game.
However Mike Knuble gave the Flyers the lead, scoring his second goal of the season when his shot from the high slot deflected off a sliding Stephen Gionta and past Brodeur for 2-1.
It was Knuble’s 18th career goal against Brodeur, second-most by any player against the future Hall-of-fame goalie.
Speaking of former Flyers, the last player over aged 40 or older to score a goal against Brodeur was Mark Recchi, who did it for the Boston Bruins in 2011.
Read made it 3-1 when he one-timed a Giroux pass past Brodeur, making it seem like the Flyers had things pretty much in hand.
Alas, the mistakes caught up to them, and Bryzgalov struggled for the first time all season, finishing with only 14 saves.
“We had the same mistakes bite us in the second period,” Bryzgalov said. “Marty just finds the puck at the far blue line and every time he [starts] odd man rushes and the catch us in the [line] changes. Everybody knows he’s good with the puck and it seems like he played a third [defenseman] for them tonight.”
The Flyers (6-8-1, 13 points) have a quick turnaround to try to forget this game as they travel to play in Montreal Saturday.
“We have to try to forget about tonight’s game and win tomorrow,” Bryzgalov said plainly. “We’ll see how it goes.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37