If there’s one thing the Flyers can look forward to in the playoffs, it’s getting away from these shootouts as they’ve lost their four of their last five since March 17th – including Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
It’s worrisome to look at their record, but when four of the last ten games have been shootout losses, it becomes less a concern about the team’s play.
Peter Laviolette wishes he had those points, but doesn’t think these losses are much to worry about.
“Did we want to win the shootout today? Absolutely. But a shootout is sometimes not a reflection of the game,” he said. “We have not done a very good job in the shootout, and we’ve kicked up some points that way.”
The one point they did gather tied them with the Washington Capitals for first place in the Conference, with the Flyers holding the spot courtesy of the tie breaker.
That much is a relief to the team, but their play at times is a cause for concern.
After a decent first in which they jumped out to a 1-0 lead before giving up a tying goal with less than a second remaining, the Flyers’ second was one they wish they could have back.
The Flyers fell behind 2-1 in the second and had a deficit to overcome going into the third.
Sean O’Donnell, who fought Brandon Prust in the opening minute to get his team jump-started, praised the Flyers’ ability to bounce back in the latter half of the game.
“I thought we played pretty well in the last part of the second and then the third period I thought we came back and battled to get back in there,” he said. “Let’s give them credit – they played playoff hockey. They are hard to play against. We battled back and at least got the point.”
The reason why they’re struggling isn’t clear. One thought is that they’re not establishing consistent offensive zone pressure, forecheck and a cycle. This showed up against the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Instead of setting up, they went with shots off the rush or dumped the puck without hurrying in on the forecheck.
Scott Hartnell saw this in his team’s play, and hopes that they can regain it and find the success that put them in first to begin with.
“We’re not finishing checks, it seems like we’re not doing the foreheck, and we’re not getting the pressure that we want,” Hartnell said. “In the beginning of the year we were in groups of five out there just cycling nonstop. It seems like we have one good shift and two off – that’s definitely not winning hockey.”
To O’Donnell, though, that will work itself out. The team has been improving and should hit full stride by the team the playoffs roll around.
When it came to saving themselves for the playoffs and taking shifts off, he said that it “was an issue back in March – game 65, game 70,” but that the last 5 or 10 games the team is “tightening up and getting closer to the way we want to play.”
If that trend keeps up, the Flyers may just be playing their best hockey going into the post season.
One thing the Flyers do have to worry about in these last few games is their health.
Chris Pronger is already out and experiencing setbacks with his hand injury, Danny Briere was out going into Sunday with “lower body soreness,” and Blair Betts left Sunday’s game with a lower body injury of his own.
All three players should be back by the playoffs at least according to Paul Holmgren’s estimation.
With Briere, he expects him to miss one more game as a precaution, but that he should play Friday.
Betts’ condition is unknown, though it should keep him out for “a few days.”
Holmgren just wants to play it safe with his squad.
“Obviously we still want to finish as high as possible, but I don’t think you can be short sighted and push when guys are banged up,” Holmgren said. “That’s like Danny [Briere], there’s nothing really serious with Danny but we just want to keep him out now.”
Last year, they were struggling to make the playoffs until the very last day. This year, the playoffs are secure and it’s a matter of seeding. Well, seeding doesn’t matter if you’re missing key players and lose to whoever you play in the first round – so to err on the side of caution is always a good thing.