After scoring on their second power play chance of the season last week against the Penguins, the Flyers have been shut down on 15 consecutive extra man opportunities. With one of the league’s top penalty killing units and an ability to outscore opponents even strength, it hasn’t kept the Flyers from establishing a respectable 2-1-1 record.
Unfortunately, they can’t win indefinitely if all of the pieces don’t come together. It’s great to be able to threaten teams with your shorthanded scoring ability, but it can’t be something to rely on. The power play simply must click for this team to succeed.
Against the Lightning, it was much of the same as they barely even had the time and space to set up in the offensive zone during the four power plays Tampa Bay afforded them – including a 5-on-3 stint in the opening period.
For the first time this season, the Flyers were outscored by their opponents during 5-on-5 play. Other games, they’ve overcome this sort of obstacle by adding a goal or two on the penalty kill. Tampa Bay’s Dan Ellis made sure that wouldn’t happen as he came up with a huge set of saves – most notably a stop on a Mike Richards shorthanded breakaway early in the second period.
Last night the responsibility fell onto the shoulders of the power play unit, which simply failed to produce. With the Flyers’ offensive depth fielding three threatening lines, the power play lines are a hodgepodge of talent with seemingly no direction. Perhaps this is the problem, as line combos are shuffled in vain, waiting for a spark of life.
As it was, the Flyers established dominance in puck control, shots, and scoring chances throughout the first period. Dan Ellis, with a solid 24 saves on 26 shots, kept his team alive through several minutes of flurries before a Steve Downie pass found sophomore scoring sensation Steven Stamkos out front for his fourth goal of the season and a Tampa Bay lead.
The Flyers answered right back as James van Riemsdyk sent a bullet pass to the front of the net where a streaking Nikolay Zherdev tipped it in for the 100th goal of his career, his first as a Flyer.
A pair of Lightning goals between the waning minutes of the second and the opening moments of the third – coming off the sticks of Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina, respectively – allowed the Bolts to pull ahead 3-1.
Danny Briere made a contest out of it as he put one over the shoulder of Ellis on a turnaround shot from the circle to pull within a goal with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately, from that point on, the Flyers were unable to get a single shot on goal. Plays were forced, the Lightning swarmed the puck, and – much like their power play throughout the season and this game – the Philly offense was nonexistent.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Special Teams: If the point hasn’t been made abundantly clear, the Flyers power play needs to find its mojo – and fast. The bottom-feeders of the league in this category, they simply haven’t been able to consistently produce good chances, and when they do, the other team has been there to keep them out of the net.
On the other hand, the Philadelphia penalty kill has been one of its proudest achievements of the season so far, allowing only two goals – fewer than the number the man down unit has generated for itself. If they can find a way to maintain this defensive excellence while at the same time bring up their offensive shortcomings, the Flyers will be a dominant team in the league.
Downie/Stamkos/St. Louis: This, the most dangerous of the Tampa Bay forward lines, was seemingly everywhere on the ice. The line combined for a goal and four assists, as Stamkos and Kubina each picked up a goal off the sticks of St. Louis and Downie. Their stellar passing made Kubina’s back-breaking third goal possible as they cycled the puck with ease in the opening minute of the third period.
Simon Gagne: While he was not a major factor in any of the scoring or even most of the play during the game, the night seemed centered around number 12, a Philly staple for the last ten seasons. Following a touching tribute and emotional standing ovation, Gagne set to work playing his game.
In the end, despite his lack of major contributions, Gagne was selected as the first star. A rare occurrence, the occasion served to remind the crowd of the meaning this first game back held for Simon, who grew up a Flyer, spent a third of his life so far in Philadelphia, and married and raised a family there.