After the team’s closed door meeting following their embarrassing loss in Columbus more than a week ago, this Flyers squad has come out firing night after night and earned themselves a five game winning streak, matching their longest from last season – which was spread out over the Olympic break.
This streak, including wins over the New York Rangers last night and a win against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, has put the Flyers in the top spot of the Atlantic division – four points ahead of the closest team. They also have a tenuous grip on first place in the Eastern conference, ahead in points but with other teams within range to pass them.
Last night’s win against the Rangers was especially sweet, as a loss would have tied the two teams, with the Rangers holding a game in hand. The Flyers didn’t want that, so everyone put their best foot forward and proved why the Phillies aren’t the only “team to beat” in this city.
It wasn’t long into the game until the much-anticipated bout between Jody Shelley and Derek Boogaard took place. For those of you that missed it, Boogaard’s signing to a ludicrous $1.625 million a year contract (remember, he hadn’t scored a single goal in his previous four seasons), was solely in response to the Flyers’ signing of heavyweight Jody Shelley. Boogaard likely would have earned the decision in this match, though the Flyers’ still generated their fair share of energy.
The Flyers’ offense established control in the scoreless first period, generating the momentum and confidence that would allow them to comeback from their eventual one goal deficit.
Shorthanded to start the second, with their bench at the opposite end, the Flyers found themselves exhausted and vulnerable in their own zone. The Ranger’s Brandon Dubinsky took advantage as he put home a rebound that the Flyers’ defenders simply couldn’t get to in time.
As the Flyers stepped onto a power play of their own, Mike Richards waited patiently, all alone, at the side of the net while Giroux and Leino fought for a puck on the opposite side. Giroux, knowing where Richards was, didn’t hesitate to launch a pass when he finally got his stick on the puck. Richards one timed it past Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game at 1.
Richards wasn’t surprised by his teammates terrific vision and sense on the play.
“He seems to make the big plays when it’s needed. He just put it right on my tape – perfect pass,” said the Flyers captain on Giroux.
At this point, the former Rangers Blair Betts and Nikolay Zherdev made their mark. Betts, whose 3 goals on the season put him ahead of the likes of Richards, Leino, and JVR, picked up an unassisted goal as he picked the puck off of defenseman Del Zotto, stepped in alone on Lundqvist, and slid a backhand by him for the eventual game winnner.
Zherdev proved that this team is finally getting the bounces its way as he stopped along the boards at the goal line and turned to throw the puck towards the net only to have it slide up the stick of Lundqvist, up his pad and over his shoulder for the goal.
Zherdev was making just his second start in a row, having been a healthy scratch since the team’s win over Buffalo. In the words of Peter Laviolette, he played more of a “north” game against Carolina, referring to his increased grit and tenacity, often looked at as a staple of North American hockey – but not as stressed in his home of Russia.
His head coach was once again impressed; “I liked his game even more tonight than last game. I think … it’s a couple of good games for him, his intensity, his speed on the puck, he looks stronger.”
A Chris Pronger cannon on the power play early in the third put the Flyers up 4-1, allowing them to sit back, play their solid brand of defense, and cruise to a victory over this divisional rival.
KEYS TO THE STREAK
What’s allowed this team to string together this five wins in a row? Let’s take a look.
Claude Giroux: With points in each of the last five games, for a total of 9, Giroux continues to set the tone for this offense with has hard work on the body, his patience with the puck, and his stellar playmaking ability.
Last night was no exception as he dug a puck out from under Ville Leino before sending a blind pass right to the stick of Mike Richards for a perfect shot, relying on nothing but his instincts to put it there.
Power Play: A few weeks into the season, the Flyers had quickly fallen behind and landed dead last in the league in power play percentage. For a few games after that, they picked up the occasional power play goal and scratched and clawed their way up a few notches. But seven man advantage goals in the last five games has them sitting at 12th. Now where this team expects itself to be, but a far cry from last, that’s for sure.
“We’ve done a lot better job moving the puck around quickly. When we get it up top, seeing the openings and getting to the net, rewarding those guys that are battling in front to screen the goalie and allow them to get after loose pucks,” said Chris Pronger, power play quarterback, on the team’s extra man success.
Home Ice Advantage: With four of the five wins coming at home, this team is beginning to establish the Well Fargo Center as a dangerous place to step into. The crowd is getting more and more amped with every victory, and the team feeds off of that and finds themselves winning even more.
Sergei Bobrovsky: It’s no coincidence that in five straight wins, this sensational rookie has made five straight starts. His stingy 1.8 GAA and .937 save percentage have kept opposing teams from having a glimmer of hope and opened up the game for the Flyers’ offense to take control, as shown by this team outscoring its opponents by a single goal in the first period over this stretch, but outscoring them by ten goals during the second period. There’s no doubt that Bob keeps games close until this offense breaks through, and that’s the role of a winning goalie.
The confidence this team and this city has in him continues to grow, as the “Bob” chant began to mount last night in the Wells Fargo Center crowd.
“It was very pleasant to hear that”, said Bobrovsky through his interpreter.