Special teams suffer in Flyers 5-1 loss

By JAY BOEHMER
Senior Hockey Insider — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
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Chris Kunitz puts one past Sergei Bobrovsky early in the first period. (Photo: AP)

Only a few minutes into Saturday’s matchup against the Penguins, it seemed the Flyers may have solved their power play woes as Danny Briere – who has the Flyers’ only other power play goal of the season – put one past goalie Brent Johnson during the first man advantage of the evening. Unfortunately, not only would their power play fail to put up points, their until-now-stellar penalty kill could only try in vain to stop Sidney Crosby and a Pittsburgh offense on fire.

Pittsburgh matched this goal soon after and tallied another in the final minute of the second period to establish a 2-1 lead going into the final frame. This is where the Flyers completely fell apart.

To start the third, the Flyers top two penalty killers in Claude Giroux and Mike Richards each took penalties – tripping and slashing, respectively. The penalty to Giroux stacked on top of a Jeff Carter double minor taken at the end of the second, giving Pittsburgh a 5-on-3 advantage.

After several chances, Crosby made them pay when he blasted a one timer past rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. A minute and a half later, he did it again and buried the Flyers under a three goal, 4-1 deficit.

Pittsburgh was much more careful with the puck than they were in the season opener in which the Flyers made them pay by capitalizing on their mistakes and turnovers. And the times when a chance was created off a Penguins turnover, Brent Johnson was there to answer, stopping 29 of 30 shots on the night.

If the Flyers fail to establish the level of discipline needed to keep themselves at least at even strength, they’re going to fail in this league as more and more teams find ways to threaten on the man advantage.

Next week should be an interesting test of their special teams as they face the Anaheim Ducks, who are hovering around the top of the league in both power play percentage and minor penalties taken. The Flyers have time between now and then to practice, look at their play, and learn what needs to be done to shut down a power play while at the same time score with their own.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Penalties: The Flyers lead the league in minor penalties. Over the past few seasons they’ve established such a precedent that this stat shouldn’t come as a surprise. On Saturday it was even worse, however, as the penalties were being taken by top line players. Carter, Richards, and Giroux – each tied for second on the team in points – combined for 12 penalty minutes, including the series of penalties that led to the Crosby goals to start the third period.

Sidney Crosby: The countless anti-Crosby chants that stream down from the rafters in Philadelphia seem to do nothing more than bring his game to a whole new level. His points-per-game average takes a significant step up when he steps into the walls of the Wells Fargo Center (from 1.35 to 1.65). When he’s this dangerous, the Flyers are forced to keep their eyes on him, opening up several other threats – as seen by Kunitz’s goal in the first period.

Danny Briere: During his few years with the Flyers, Briere has proven to be far more useful in the post season than the regular season. Especially over the last couple of seasons, as he’s struggled with injuries and point droughts during stretches. This year may be different, though, as he has come out of the gates at a strong pace, putting up four goals in the first five games.

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