The Flyers have once again proven why they’re deserving of the top spot in the East. Their defensive leader Chris Pronger sidelined with a broken foot, the team was forced to patch holes and shift lines. In the end, though, everyone stepped up, filled their role, and got the job done in this 4-1 win over the division rival New York Rangers.
What makes this team different than last year’s Eastern Conference Champions is their depth. If Chris Pronger had gone down with a crippling injury such as this, at the same time last year, the team would have been in disarray. Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Matt Carle would have lined up alongside Oskars Bartulis, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, and Danny Syvret. All respectable players in their own right, but when the trio of Bartulis, Tollefsen, and Syvret makes up half of your defensive corps, you’re going to get taken advantage of.
With the offseason acquisitions of Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros, that third pairing is as solid as the rest of the lineup. Today, only Oskars Bartulis was needed to fill the hole left by Pronger. Surrounded by five other reliable defensemen, Bartulis was able to play his game without fear of his mistakes being the center of attention – his play was taken out of the spotlight.
Saturday’s game against the Rangers marked Bartulis’ 4th of the season – only his second since October 9th.
He played a strong game, but having been out of the lineup for so long, he showed signs of fatigue as the third period dragged on.
Moments after having a goal waved off – ruled a “distinct kicking motion” — the Rangers went right back to work and buried one without a doubt to make the score 2-1, with the pass that set it up sneaking by an exhausted Oskars Bartulis. He was caught reaching with his stick, unable to move his feet and negate the pass that led to the goal.
“In the third period I felt like I was losing game shape – conditioning wise,” said Bartulis following the game. Like last year, he was not forced to contribute large chunks of ice time, but unlike last year, the slack he left was picked up by a group of five – not just by Chris Pronger. This team effort and depth is what makes the Flyers so dangerous this year.
Before the Rangers scored, the Flyers had established a two goal lead on tallies by Nikolay Zherdev – whom Mike Richards sprung out of the box following a penalty kill – and Andreas Nodl – who was set up by a beautiful Claude Giroux feed.
With a disallowed goal being called in their favor – perhaps incorrectly – and a surging Rangers team pulling within a goal, the Flyers were in danger of blowing their two goal lead in a third period breakdown.
After the Rangers scored, though, coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout to settle his team down – to rally his troops – and keep them focused on the task at hand.
“You feel like you’re doing the right things and you’re playing the right way, but if you take a breath – let your guard down – even for a second, the pucks going to end up in your net,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “We weren’t real sharp, we stopped playing our game.”
“[The timeout] was … maybe a wake up call,” he said.
After that moment of clarity, the Flyers went back to playing their game as Kimmo Timonen put a shot through traffic that went off of Ville Leino and in, re establishing their two goal lead.
Nikolay Zherdev finished off the game with a power play goal – his second of the day – to settle the score at 4-1.
The Flyers, missing one of their key pieces, pressed on business as usual and manufactured another big win – their fifth in a row in this 7-1-1 run through December. Perhaps the best sign of all, though, was their ability to buckle down and finish the game strong when their lead was in jeopardy.
“It’s getting better, and that’s what we need to do throughout the year,” said Mike Richards. “We’ve had games where we’ve given up leads in the third, and it was nice to see tonight that we locked it down and didn’t give them a whole lot.”