BY CHRIS DiFRANCESCO, Columnist
Last night was worst possible timing on the part of the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending to have an epic failure. Just hours before, the Flyers decided not to bring in a number one netminder but to stay the course with Michael Leighton before the NHL trade deadline at 3pm. Unfortunately, the Flyers didn’t plan on watching a 7-4 drubbing from the hands of the Florida Panthers.
Leighton, who was just anointed the number one goalie for his club, gave up five goals on 26 shots and was replaced by Brian Boucher early in the second period. All the blame, however, cannot be pout on the shoulders of the goaltenders. The Flyers seemingly forgot how to play two-way hockey. Philadelphia’ defensive core gave up 43 shots, seven of those entering the back of the net. They looked to be going through the motions for the first 40 minutes of play.
“I’m worried with the way we’ve played the game,” head coach Peter Laviolette said . “We played mindless hockey. You need to execute in your system, offensively and defensively to be successful in either one.
“Things are set in stone in our system of what you can and can’t do. They(Flyers) didn’t come in to play … The bottom line is, we needed to win a hockey game and we played poorly. We got what we deserved.”
Laviolette was dead on.
Since late December, the Flyers had playing sound hockey. Winning hockey. Before the Olympic break they had four straight wins where the club looked like a solid contender coming out of the Eastern Conference. Take Tuesday night’s slaughtering of Tampa Bay for example, there wasn’t one glaring issue for the Flyers then.
Then all of a sudden, a massive road block smacked them in the face. One that confused their knowledge of two-way hockey.
The game started off with what could have been a round one, two, and three bell. Three fights in just under three minutes of play. Both Ian Laperierre and Arron Asham dropping the gloves, followed by captain Mike Richards taking the brunt of revenge fists from David Booth, who he knocked out for 45 games with a concussion in Oct.
The Flyers played a scary first period. They accounted for 26 penalty minutes and went down 2-0 heading into the second period.The Panthers attacked first with a redirected goal that was shot by Cory Stillman that bounced off Steven Reinprecht’s knee. Michael Frolik quickly made it 2-0 on the power play after a bad tripping penalty by one, Braydon Coburn.
In the second, things got dreadful for the Flyers. Even with goals by Danny Briere and Jeff Carter, Florida ran off four goals to end the second up 6-2. The Panthers had previously gone 14 straight games where they scored two goals or less.
“It just didn’t seem like we got our legs under us,” Richards said. “We made a lot of mistakes we normally wouldn’t make, gave up a lot of odd-man rushes and they capitalized on their chances. We matched their physical presence, but we just weren’t there in the mind frame.”
Jason Garrison ripped a shot over the arm of Leighton from a bad angle nonetheless to make it 4-2. That’s when Laviolette seen enough of Leighton. Boucher was in, and the rest was history.
They weren’t great goals,” Leighton said. “The worst part about it, is it came at crucial times they scored where we were right back in the game, had momentum and they scored.”
Ville Leino and Ryan Parent scored for the Flyers, both were their first with the organization.
The Flyers better get over this one fast because they head north to play the sudden struggling Buffalo Sabres tomorrow night. The Sabres lost to Washington last night, if the Flyers had won they would have climbed to within four points of the fifth seed.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
David Booth: The one word to describe his performance last night would be; revenge. Booth, who missed 45 games with a concussion due to Richards devastating hit last Oct., put forth a four point game(1G,3A). He was all over the ice and even dropped the gloves in an attempt to fight Richards. Key word, attempt.
Tomas Vokoun: The Florida netminder was in heated trade talks earlier in the day including a deal that possibly had him coming to Philadelphia. Vokoun was stellar, stopping 38 Flyer shots and a lot of those were big stops especially in the third period. The Czech goaltender was given the day off Tues. after previously starting 21 straight games.
Michael Leighton: Leighton came into the game 13-3-1 since joining the Flyers, was a major key to Florida’s win. He looked out of position from beginning until he got pulled midway through the second period. Although, it’s rather difficult to criticize the guy who has risen this team from the basement of the Eastern Conf. However, if he is going to be the number guy for the Flyers for the rest of this season he better start playing like it. The NHL becomes a different animal when the playoffs begin.
Chris DiFrancesco is a High Hopes columnist. Jay Boehmer had the night off and will return Friday night.