For the first period of Saturday’s matchup with Buffalo Sabres, the Philadelphia Flyers looked like the team that had breezed through the first 60 games of the season.
The team had struggled to score in recent games, but that seemed to be erased when Kris Versteeg and James van Riemsdyk tallied in the opening stanza. With a 2-0 lead over a franchise that the Flyers have had their way with in recent meetings, all seemed well again on Broad Street.
However, the euphoria ended with the first intermission.
Buffalo scored three times in less than five minutes and left the Flyers bewildered. The team battled back to tie things up, but the Sabres proved too much in the third period.
With the 5-3 loss, the Flyers suffered only their second three game losing streak of the season.
“We turned a lot of pucks over,” Flyers captain Mike Richards lamented after the loss. “We had a lot of chances, we just didn’t make the shots, or the plays that we wanted to. They came at us hard and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
It has become an all too familiar refrain recently for the Orange and Black. The aggressiveness of opponents has often pushed the Flyers back on their heels, and desperation is hard to grasp.
For a team that found scoring and winning to come so easily earlier in the season, lately their success has been difficult to maintain.
“The season is fairly long…maybe you ease up a little bit at times but it’s just about getting back. All of these teams we have been playing against have been fighting for their playoff lives,” Versteeg explained. “Now it’s just about getting back to simple things… just play hard and take the positives from tonight’s game… a few bad bounces and it’s in the back of the net again.”
There’s no question that the team has found the ‘good bounces’ much more difficult to come by lately. However, there is an old sports adage that states that a team makes their own breaks. The Flyers haven’t done that in their losing streak.
The contrast to the team’s play lately came in the first period when Richards played a marvelous short-handed shift. His relentless attitude and approach clearly rubbed off on his teammates. Philadelphia looked like the prototype of a Flyers hockey team. They finished their checks and won puck battles using physicality and determination.
Those intangibles helped give the team the lead, but the efforts to make the puck bounce their way seemed to disappear once the puck was dropped on the second period.
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who notched his 100th career goal on Saturday, was quite clear about the team’s performance.
“We can’t really take a period off this time of year, every team is coming out hard, especially these teams that are vying for a playoff spot,” he said. “If you aren’t ready for that then you are going to lose games.”
It has been clear since coming up two games short of a Stanley Cup victory last year that this campaign would be a disappointment unless the Cup was hoisted in Philadelphia.
For three quarters of the season, the Flyers played with that attitude on their sleeves, steamrolling the opposition with the tunnel vision of the sport’s greatest prize. Now, that tunnel vision has been widened to show the immediate future. That may not be a bad thing for the team, especially with another desperate awaiting them on Sunday, in the New York Rangers.
With less than 20 games remaining in the season, most of Philadelphia’s opponents will be desperate for every point they can muster. The Flyers will need that desperation to rub off on them if they hope to achieve their season-long goal. Some good bounces wouldn’t hurt either.