Wrap: Flyers Fall Short vs. Panthers, 4-2; Phantoms Offensive Woes Continue
Wrap: Flyers Fall Short vs. Florida, 4-2
Paraphrasing the postgame words of Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux, what could have been a great homestand to open the season turned out to a just-OK one as the team lost a winnable game, 4-2, to the still-unbeaten Florida Panthers at the Wells Fargo in Saturday night. The Flyers dropped to 2-1-1 while the Panthers improved to 5-0-0.
At five-on-five, play was back-and-forth and both teams had their chances. The goaltending was strong on both sides. Both teams scored one goal on the power play and one shorthanded. The Flyers even led, 2-1, as the second period wound down and were tied at 2-2 with a power play chance at 6:52 of the third period. Nevertheless, the Flyers came away with nothing to show for it but a regulation loss.
Two pivotal sequences decided the game:
1) With the Flyers leading 2-1, Travis Konecny made an ill-advised centering pass deep in the offensive zone with no one but Florida players around. Florida went into its deadly transition game with a 3-on-2. Mackenzie Weeger sent a weak backhanded cross-ice pass that eluded Travis Sanheim (after the game, Sanheim admitted it was a play he'd like back) and then went into the net off the skate of Owen Tippett and he drove down the slot. Replays confirmed that the puck was not sent into the net by a kicking motion. That tied the game at 2-2 with just 27 seconds left in the second period.
2) With the score knotted at 2-2 and the Flyers on the power play, Keith Yandle turned the puck over and Sam Bennett sprung Jonathan Huberdeau to go in on Carter Hart. The Flyers' goalie made an outstanding, stretched out skate save but the puck took a Florida-friendly bounce right back to Huberdeau and he was able to bank his own rebound into the net at 7:53 of the third period.
The Flyers spent far too much of night killing penalties. The power play disparity for the game was 7-4 in Florida's favor. Although Philly actually did a good job on the PK for the third straight game, spending so much time killing penalties including a carryover late second period penalty and two additional minors in the third (including a mid-period Nate Thompson roughing minor while trailing 3-2) took the Flyers out of their offensive flow.
When play was actually at 5-on-5, Florida had the Corsi edge and the overall scoring chance edge but high-danger opportunities were dead even at 9-9. While neither Seattle's Phillip Grubauer nor Boston's Jeremy Swayman were able to come up with clutch saves when needed (and both yielded at least one stoppable goal), former two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky was excellent when called upon. "Bob" finished with 27 saves on 29 shots.
Both Flyers goals were scored on special teams. At 4:23 of the second period, Giroux took a cross-ice pass from Sean Couturier. From above the right circle, he blasted a perfectly placed shot into the top left corner of the net. The goal was Giroux's third of the season.
At 10:53 came the biggest highlight of the night for the Flyers. Cam Atkinson intercepted the puck in the defensive zone and raced off on a shorthanded breakaway. Attacking with speed, he made a move that forced Bobrovsky to open the pads enough for Atkinson to tuck the puck through for an unassisted goal. Atkinson now has four goals on the young season.
Hart gave the Flyers a chance to win and made some difficult saves look easy. Huberdeau opened the scoring with a power play goal at 17:00 of the first period. The tally came five seconds into Florida's second power play of the game. Florida won a left circle faceoff and Huberdeau wired a shot through a Patric Hörnqvist screen high to the stick side over Hart.
The Tippett even strength and Huberdeau shorthanded goals, from a goalie's standpoint, were a couple of unfavorable bounces. Hart didn't have any chance of stopping either the one that deflected off Tippett's skate on the 3-on-2 or making a followup save on Huberdeau after stretching all the way out for the initial stop. The final Florida goal was a Sam Reinhart empty netter with 1:18 left on the clock.
The Flyers have an off-day on Sunday. On Monday, they will practice at the FTC in Voorhees before leaving for their western Canada road trip. The Flyers have games on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers, Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks and Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
Phantoms Offensive Woes Continue
Both in the four-game preseason and over the first three regular season games to date (0-3-0), Ian Laperriere's Lehigh Valley Phantoms have severely struggled to put the puck in the net. The team is still looking for its first five-on-five goal of the regular season -- one power play goal, one 6-on-5 goal, one shorthanded goal -- and has yet to muster so much as two tallies in a game.
Even more concerningly, since it is still very early in the season, the Phantoms have been prone to being on the wrong end of at least one lopsided period in terms of shots and scoring chance differentials.
In Saturday night's hope opener at the PPL Center, the Phantoms dropped a 3-1 decision to the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hartford outshot the Phantoms by margins of 12-8, 12-7 and an inexcusable 17-7 in a game that went to the third period tied at 1-1 on the scoreboard. Sometimes, shot differentials can be deceptive. Not on this night. The Phantoms had no sustained offensive rhythm at any point during the night. Hartford had too-easy breakouts and too-easy entries.
The lone Phantoms highlight from an offensive standpoint: a late first-period shorthanded breakaway goal by Max Willman. Morgan Frost intercepted the puck in the defensive zone and made a perfect lead pass to Willman, who soloed the rest of the way to beat Adam Huska.
In the first two games of the regular season, at least the Phantoms created some good looks at the net on which Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Filip Lindberg and Hershey's Zach Fucale came up with good saves. Huska really didn't have to break much of a sweat in this tilt. In truth, though, the Phantoms have not gotten enough volume of chances in any game from power play opportunities, flurries around the net, Grade A looks from the low slot or odd-man rushes. The Phantoms have been too stationary at times and giving goalies a chance a chance to get squared.
Defensively, there have been too many games -- dating back to the preseason -- where the Phantoms have had to over-rely on their goalies to nurse the game to intermissions with Lehigh Valley still in the game on the scoreboard. The good news is that the Phantoms have gotten two strong starts from Felix Sandström and one from Samuel Ersson to open the season (both were also quite good during the preseason). The bad news is that they're not getting nearly enough help consistently from the skaters in front of them nor are they getting goal support. The margin for error, every game thus far, has been zero.
The Phantoms have also been bitten by the injury bug. Forward Linus Sandin, who was struck iby a rising puck, needs surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. His father traveled from Sweden to be with him. Young defenseman Mason Millman is also out.
Despite scoring one gorgeous end-to-end goal during the preseason, 18-year-old winger Samu Tuomaala struggled over the latter few games of the exhibition slate and then had a very rough debut in the opener in terms of going to the right spots and making the correct reads. He's been a healthy scratch the last two games. It would not be a surprise if there's a decision soon to sent him to the Ontario Hockey League. It's not doing him much good to sit.
Really, though, no one on the Phantoms is stepping up to be a positive difference maker. No one is dictating the play except for sporadic flashes here or there. Certainly not Frost. Not Tyson Foerster. Not Isaac Ratcliffe. Not Cam York (apart from two nice assists). Not German Rubstov, who had a particularly rough night on Saturday. Not the key veterans on whom the team is counting such as Cal O'Reilly or Gerry Mayhew or Adam Clendening or young vet Connor Bunnaman. No one but the goalies.
On Saturday, at least veteran Garrett Wilson stepped up to try to defend teammate Brennan Saulnier after a late-game dirty hit away from the puck by Anthony Bitetto. Wilson got tagged with 29 minutes worth of penalties, including an instigation penalty (with its automatic misconduct), instigation in the last five minutes of a game (with its automatic game misconduct), roughing, unsportsmanlike conduct and fighting. If the officiating crew had done its job, Bitetto would have tossed at 17:19 of the third period when he blatantly elbowed Saulnier, who was slow to get up.
The Phantoms failed on a critical power play with a chance to tie the game. Then Bitetto exited the penalty box to score an empty net goal to seal the 3-1 outcome. That's when Wilson forced the issue (and then some) to seek revenge on Saulnier's behalf.
The Phantoms will try again on Sunday for their first win of the season. Their 3:05 p.m. game at the PPL Center against the WB/S Penguins will be aired live nationally on NHL Network.