Head coach Peter Laviolette can give all the speeches and make all the line changes he wants, but if the shots that should be routine are getting through more than once a night, while pucks are being consistently kept out at the other end, it quickly becomes impossible to win games.
Brian Boucher stopped 28 of 31, with the last two goals he gave up being weak by any goalie’s standards. His counterpart, Atlanta’s Ondrej Pavelec, kept out many of the Flyers’ best chances, letting in only one goal on 45 shots.
While they were amazingly inconsistent through much of the season, the Flyers are now in a position where even quality performances aren’t enough, as their holes and weaknesses come to the forefront when faced with teams willing to grind it out to look for them, as the Thrashers were in their two game home and home sweep to wrap up a sweep of the four game season series.
Able to break their statistical habits against the Flyers, Atlanta, a minus-24 in first period goal differential, netted two. The first came off a defensive collapse by the pairing of Oskars Bartulis, back from 11 games out as a healthy scratch, and Ryan Parent, who had previously been paired up with Braydon Coburn. Rod Hainsey capitalized for the 1-0 lead. Before the period ended, Coburn got caught on a pinch at the offensive blue line and Todd White beat Boucher to the five hole off the ensuing rush.
Laviolette called a timeout to settle his team down after falling behind 2-0 eleven minutes into the game. The Flyers, aided by a couple of power plays, generated their share of offense as the period came to a close. The second period looked good on all counts, except the puck continued to stay out of the net at the Atlanta end.
The third period, in which the Thrashers have a goal differential of plus 25, started off with their dominating the play in Philadelphia’s end. Eight minutes into the final frame, the Thrashers had outshot the Flyers 7-0. They were able to come back, though, and Mike Richards buried a one timer off a feed by Matt Carle.
A flurry of chances ensued, yet Pavelec kept them all out once again. As the Thrashers turned the play up ice, a run-of-the-mill shot by Rich Peverly beat Boucher to seal the deal at 3-1.
With an inability to capitalize on offense, and an even less stellar ability to tie men up and keep pucks out of your own net, the Flyers record reflects their play, having gone 1-3-1 in their last five.
Atlanta pulls to within a point of the final playoff spot and four points behind the Flyers, who sit in a three way tie with the Canadiens and Senators at 79 points.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Goaltending: As if I need to reiterate it, the Flyers’ injuries at goaltending have left them without the touch that any playoff competitors have when it comes to making the big stops that change games. At the same time, their opponents all seem to have that, last night coming in the form of Ondrej Pavelec, which explains why they can get 45 shots on net and only slips by.
Mike Richards: When his team seemed to be clenching their sticks too tight and the fans began getting restless, captain Mike Richards didn’t get flustered and found the open spot on the ice, called for the puck, and put it in to pull within a goal late in the game. This is the kind of play needed from a leading NHL captain.
Rich Peverley: Peverley notched a goal and an assist for a total of four points in his four games against the Flyers on the season.