The red-hot Nashville Predators visited the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night and ran into a hard-checking Flyers team that wouldn’t budge an inch. The Flyers played a feisty match and scored in all situations to beat the visitors, 4-1.
The Predators have been on fire of late, winning their last five games, and 10 of their last 11 before running into the Flyers, and “run into” is the key phrase.
The Flyers piled on the hits and the goal-mouth scrums, and out-hit the visitors 30-19 by games’ end. It wasn’t just in the goal-mouth, though. The Flyers tried to body the opposition at every opportunity, in front, in the corners, at open ice, and anywhere else they could get a shoulder into a Predator. The refs let the players play for the most part, even with the eleven total minor penalties that were called. They could have called a lot more.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette answered questions concerning the hitting and said he’d emphasized getting the physical game going for this match-up. He also spoke about his players keeping their feet moving, and when both of those things happen, good things follow.
Going into this game, the Flyers led the NHL in minor penalties, with 235 in 49 games, an average of 4.79 per game. The Predators, on the other hand, had only 175 in 51 games, for an average of 3.40 minors per game.
The power play of the Predators was something that Laviolette wanted to neutralize, and after two scary first period penalty kills, the Predators second-ranked power play unit seemed out of sync by the second frame. Their passes weren’t crisp, and they weren’t getting pucks through, even from their dynamic duo on defense — All-Stars Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
The Flyers were even able to score a short-handed goal against the Preds in the second period. Rookie and Calder Trophy hopeful Matt Read poke-checked defenseman Kevin Klein, and skated the puck the length of the ice to fire a laser five-hole against Predators’ goaltender Anders Lindback to make it 2-0.
After an up-tempo second period that saw the Flyers outshoot the Preds 11-4, the visitors saw some life in the third period from a goal by Suter when the defense blew its coverage, and allowed the Preds defenseman to fire the puck into the open net. But minutes later, with Jared Smithson in the box on an interference penalty, the Flyers reclaimed their two-goal lead on a great power play goal from Wayne Simmonds, his second goal on the night, that sucked the life out of the Preds.
With less than two minutes remaining and the Preds’ goaltender pulled, Jaromir Jagr passed the puck to linemate Claude Giroux, who deposited it into the empty net for his first goal in 12 games to make it 4-1. That would be the final score.
There was a lot of positives for the Flyers on the night, but one in particular was that netminder Ilya Bryzgalov has now played two straight strong games between the pipes.
On Tuesday night, against the Jets, he stopped 23-of-24 shots in an effort that would result in a shoot-out loss, but the loss couldn’t be blamed on the Russian goaltender. Again, against the Preds he allowed only one goal on 27 shots, and had a number of big testers on his way to a convincing win, including keeping his team in the first period after being out-shot 12-6.
Bryzgalov failed to clinch the shutout, but it was a great stepping stone towards silencing his critics. Laviolette commented on how his netminder used the All Star break to gather himself and get his game back together. He’s noticed a newfound focus in practice as well. The Flyers hope this will be the turning point in Bryzgalov’s season.
The Flyers are now three points back from the first-place Rangers, and they’re back at it Saturday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils.
The Flyers are getting players back from injury now, including Jagr and defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who was a healthy scratch against the Preds. But one thing on everyone’s mind is, will the Flyers trade for a tough defenseman to eat up the minutes captain Chris Pronger used to play before he was shelved for the season, or is the price too high for a possible rental in a season like this?
The truth is, the Flyers have been dressing seven, eight, nine rookies every night, placing each of them in critical situations. Two in particular have been Marc-Andre Bourdon and Gustafsson, and each has played strong when needed. It’s too much to ask that the Flyers give up a possible future star for a rental defenseman that may only wear a Flyers jersey for 30-plus games down the stretch.
The Flyers would do better to put their money to use in the offseason and secure a top defenseman out of free agency. Let the rookies have this season.