Maybe it’s the exhaustion of back-to-back games against a well rested team; maybe it’s the lack of Chris Pronger – it’s hard to say what exactly the problem is, but the Flyers’ defense was simply outperformed by the Ducks in this New Years Eve contest.
Offensively, the team played typical Flyers hockey – effective, hard working forecheck backed by aggressive defensemen. The 40 shots they generated simply weren’t enough, though, in the face of a tight defense that kept most of the shots to the outside and a stellar goaltender in Jonas Hiller – for whom those outside shots are nothing to worry about.
On the other side of the puck, the Flyers’ defense simply couldn’t skate with this Ducks offense. They didn’t control the puck for long periods of time, but they found open ice – ice the Flyers’ should have been clogging up – and capitalized with fast rushes and quick turnovers.
Sergei Bobrovsky looked average throughout the game. He made the routine stops, but when he was truly tested – on chances like a Jason Blake breakaway or a few slot wrist shots – the pucks got by without a problem. The blame can’t be put on him entirely, because most of those chances shouldn’t even have happened had the defense been covering its assignments, but for a team to make it all the way, they need a goaltender who can bail them out on occasion – Bobrovsky simply wasn’t able to do that.
While the Flyers controlled the play through the first period, they entered the second period with a one goal deficit on a momentary lapse by Oskars Bartulis that let Jason Blake through for a breakaway goal. In the opening few minutes of the second, that one goal lead was extended to three for the Ducks on goals by Lubomir Visnovsky and Jason Blake.
Soon after that, head coach Peter Laviolette settled his team down and gave them a moment to focus by calling one of his skillfully utilized timeouts. The very next shift, it paid off as Andreas Nodl found the soft spot in the Anaheim zone and let go a shot to beat Hiller and make the score 3-1.
In the early minutes of the third, that same line of Jeff Carter, Andreas Nodl, and Ville Leino – whom Laviolette was double shifting to cash in on their quality play – made the Ducks pay for a turnover as Jeff Carter notched an unassisted tally.
Unfortunately, that was going to be the last the Flyers saw of the back of the net.
Not even two minutes later, Bobby Ryan beat Bobrovsky to make the score 4-2 and kill the surging Flyers’ momentum. With the boys in orange down, the Ducks went for the killing blow with less than five minutes left in the game – Visnovsky picked up his secod of the game to seal the deal with a 5-2 lead.
The Flyers dug their own grave with shoddy defensive play. It took time for the offense to get rolling against this tight defense backed by strong goaltending. By the time it did, the defense had already spotted the Ducks a three goal lead – more than the Flyers would be able to overcome.
They’ll be moving east to face the Detroit Red Wings – a city in which they haven’t won in about 20 years. They won’t have much time for reflection, with only a day off and a few hundred miles to travel, but the Flyers have to take a look at their play here in Anaheim if they want to play up to the Red Wings. Against an elite Western Conference team like that, this kind of defensive play will have them picked apart even worse than the Ducks managed to.