Just two days after a dominate performance versus the New York Islanders that saw the Flyers generate 45 shots on goal, and come out with nothing but a shutout and a shootout loss, the orange and black were back at it against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though the Leafs were able to generate some offense, the Flyers never let it slip away in a chippy affair that ended in a 4-3 Flyers’ win.
The tone was set in the first period, with two brisk fights and two penalties handed out to each team. The Flyers had the better of the play, and outshot the Leafs after one, 16-5. It was a period filled with scoring chances, and for a while, it looked like the Flyers might be snake-bitten again.
A lot of the chances by the Flyers were fanned shots or ones without much on them. They also didn’t establish much net-presence until late in the first stanza. With 5:22 left in the period, a couple of skirmishes behind and in front of the net caused the puck to bounce towards Toronto netminder James Reimer. It would have been an easy save, but All Star forward Scott Hartnell got his stick on it and chipped it over Reimer’s shoulder, as he went down. Hartnell now has 26-goals on the season.
The second period was the complete opposite of the first, as it saw six total goals scored between the two teams, making the score 4-3. It seemed like the puck had a mind of its own, and for-checkers easily stripped pucks for good scoring chances on both sides.
The biggest goal on the night had to belong to recent All Star Claude Giroux, who snapped his scoreless streak off a pass from Hartnell in the corner. Giroux had only scored one goal since the Winter Classic, and that one was an empty netter in the waning seconds of a game.
Giroux looked poised to score against the Isles on Tuesday, as he fired six shots towards their goaltender, but Evgeni Nabokov turned them all away, in a stellar performance. Giroux was back at it against the Leafs, firing four shots at Reimer, and making sure to cash in on one.
If the Flyers had one thing that could have been pointed to as a failure in the match, it had to be their own net coverage, in front of the backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who started in place of the ailing Ilya Bryzgalov. At least two of the Leafs’ goals were due to blown coverage directly in front of Bobrovsky. One in particular had veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen sitting on Bobrovsky’s shoulder, while he was down in the butterfly.
Sophomore netminder Bobrovsky put up another good performance, but didn’t get the kind of defensive support he needed to keep the Leafs from scoring. The Flyers are clearly missing the kind of intimidating presence that injured Chris Pronger would normally bring to the team.
The Flyers’ consistent problems handling big forwards, like Phil Kessel (6’1” 202 lbs), has been noticeable, and other teams are exploiting it. It fuels the speculation that Flyers GM Paul Holmgren may be seeking out a rugged defenseman before the trade deadline. Speculation surrounds the Leafs Luke Schenn, the Preds Ryan Suter, and the Canadiens Hal Gill. These are big tough defensemen, with experience, who handle the top forwards in the league.
Pronger’s season is over, and although the Flyers are in a rebuilding year, placing 7-9 rookies in the roster per night, the franchise has shown they’ll typically take a run at the playoffs every season, so a deal may be in the works. This is also dependent upon the return of power forward James van Riemsdyk, who’s been rumored to be a coveted prize on the trading market. The Flyers’ depth at forward possibly makes him expendable.
Holmgren has always stood by the 2007 number two overall draft pick, and the youngster does have a strong future. However, if Holmgren has decided he can get a better return, he’ll likely take the deal.
This is likely untrue, however, as the Flyers are rebuilding this season, and won’t be willing to send away their recently resigned assets. Also, few teams will be willing to trade for an underachieving power forward recovering from post-concussion syndrome. Look for the Flyers to finish the season as they are. And if the Flyers deem Pronger’s career over, as with former tough guy Ian Laperriere, they’ll sign a free agent in the offseason to fill the role.
The bigger question right now, is, goaltending has been better since the All Star break, will it continue? Can Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky hold the fort, and steal a few games, when the defense is breaking down?
The Flyers are back at it this Saturday afternoon against the first place NY Rangers, who’ve won each of their previous four encounters this season. The Flyers will need to continue their vigorous attack versus the Broadway Blueshirts, getting forwards in front of Henrik Lundqvist, if they want to win.