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Meltzer's Musings: Not Good Enough

April 10, 2013, 9:03 AM ET [829 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Flyers' 4-1 loss to the Islanders last night dealt a severe blow to Philly's already slim playoff hopes. It would take a miracle for Philadelphia to reach the postseason this year, and this team is neither capable nor deserving of one.

The go-ahead goal scored by Michael Grabner in the second period was a microcosm of the entire season for the Flyers. A combination of bad fundamental hockey and botched execution proved fatal in a game where the Flyers had actually been playing decent hockey up to that point. Once the Flyers trailed, they never came back.

Philly got caught in a bad defensive matchup, with the Brayden Schenn line out against the John Tavares line. The Islanders pinned Philly deep in their own end of the ice for the better part of a minute and the Flyers finally took an icing. Peter Laviolette was forced to burn his team's timeout.

When play resumed, the Islanders changed lines for the offensive faceoff. The Flyers, of course, had to keep the same personnel on the ice. Philly won the defensive zone draw. Schenn carried the puck to safety up the ice. So far so good.

Schenn had plenty of opportunity to make the smart play -- dump the puck in deep, and get off the ice for a line change. Instead, he and linemate Wayne Simmonds decided to press the attack. Schenn turned the puck over, and the Islanders countered.

Things still weren't all that dangerous. The Flyers got a fresh Scott Hartnell out on the ice, and had defensemen Luke Schenn and Kimmo Timonen in position to defend. But Hartnell took himself out of position, drifting into no-man's land in the defensive zone.

When the puck made its way over to Grabner, Luke Schenn attempted to block the ensuing shot. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the defenseman was unable to come up with the block but provided Grabner with a screen on goalie Steve Mason.

Needless risk-taking. Forwards providing little to no defensive help. Defensemen coming up on the losing end of a one-on-one. A swing of momentum the other way in a previously even game. That is the Flyers' 2012-13 season in a nutshell.

Something else typical of this year's Flyers team: offensive impotence in a winnable game.

Jakub Voracek opened the scoring in the game, as he took a nice feed from Claude Giroux and went in alone on Evgeni Nabokov. Voracek slid a backhander toward the cage on the moving goalie. Nabokov's backward momentum carried him back over his own goal line. A fraction of a second later, Islanders defensemen Andy MacDonald came crashing in, taking the net off its moorings. The puck, the goalie, the net and the defensemen all ended up sliding into the end boards. The Flyers had a 1-0 lead.

Thereafter, the Flyers' offense went AWOL the rest of the game. There were scoring chances, especially in the first 40 minutes of the match, but there was zero finish. Open shots for the defense with traffic in front -- I can think of two instances with Bruno Gervais in particular -- were shot wide of the net. Forwards with chances in the slot, including Voracek on a bid for a second goal, put weak shots right into Nabokov.

In the third period, the Islanders played their hearts out to protect the one-goal lead and the Flyers did a generally poor job of trying to fight for space. The Islanders wanted it more, plain and simple.

Steve Mason did a decent job in net for the Flyers in his first start, but it was nothing significantly better or worse than Ilya Bryzgalov likely would have produced.

The Islanders' first goal, scored by Matt Moulson, was another play that was typical of the Flyers' season. It started out as a routine 2-on-2 rush with defensemen Kent Huskins and Bruno Gervais in good position to defend. Brad Boyes turned his body to get a little separation from Huskins, who had backed in just a tad too far. Gervais inexplicably abandoned his position to go at Boyes, but there was still an open passing lane to Moulson in the medium slot.

Compounding the coverage snafu, Moulson's low shot was a stoppable one but it leaked past a moving Mason. As has often been the case with Bryzgalov, this was not an outright soft goal but it was the type of save that could have been made and one that changed the complexion of the game. In the last few shifts leading up the goal, it had been the Flyers applying most of the pressure while looking to expand their one-goal lead.

Apart from the stoppable first goal, which canceled out the less-than-ideally played Voracek goal yielded by Nabokov, Mason gave the Flyers a chance to win. He showed off his puckhandling acumen -- which is leaps and bounds better than Bryzgalov's often-suspect puckhandling -- and made a potentially huge glove save on a Kyle Okposo breakaway to keep the Flyers within a goal.

Mason had no chance on the Grabner goal, nor was he at fault on the insurance goal scored by John Taveres with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. On the latter goal, Mason actually made a tough stop on Tavares on a 2-on-1 but the rebound sat in the crease and a sliding Erik Gustafsson (forced to backcheck like a forward and he was slightly caught behind the play) accidentally knocked into the puck and put it over the goal line.

Bad luck? Not really. Teams make their own luck. The Flyers got what they deserved. What we saw last night was the real 2013 Flyers. The four-game winning streak marked by comeback victories was the aberration.

All in all, Mason was not part of the problem in last night's game. But the same could be said of many of Bryzgalov's losses this season.

Last night's loss had nothing to do with all the injuries in the Philadelphia lineup. It wasn't the goaltending. It most certainly wasn't the officiating, as the refs unobtrusively let the players play on both side. It was just a case of a team that isn't deserving of being in contention for a playoff spot doing the things that teams with losing records do.


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