In a 3-2 loss to the streaking Maple Leafs (6-0-3 in their last nine games), the Flyers dropped their second straight for the first time since late December of last year. Sloppy defensive play in their own zone was the culprit.
Turnovers, giveaways, and bobbled pucks were more than evident for the Flyers. After getting the first goal of the game, it took only 21 seconds for the Leafs to tie the score on a botched clearing attempt by Scott Hartnell. The Flyers’ feisty winger tried wristing the puck out through the slot only to have it land on the stick of Clarke MacArthur who fired the puck towards the net and in off of a deflection by Nikolai Kulemin.
Flyers rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky played a solid game–stopping 30 of 33 shots–but at times gave up tough rebounds, that his defense failed to clear.
“Well, I think we can play better defense in front of him,” Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said about his goalie. “You give guys point blank chances in the slot, and it’s difficult. We need to do a better job in front of him.”
With only 10.5 seconds left in the second, the Flyers’ were up 2-1, off of two goals by the recently acquired forward, Kris Versteeg. A lost face off and poorly handled rebound gave the Leafs a goal and tied things up again.
“We’re at game 63 or 64 here,” said star defenseman Chris Pronger. “We got to understand what we’re doing in our own end, what we’re doing on draws, and all the rest of that—and get on the same page.”
Pronger was not immune to bobbling a puck in his own zone that nearly resulted in a goal. In fact the defense as a whole has been fairly inefficient as of late.
Andrej Meszaros played a physical game, but at times fell behind the play. As a result, he sat in the box a total of three times on the night. And in total, the team had to kill off seven penalties.
When asked about how penalties can hurt a team, veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell, stressed the rhythm of a game, and how it can easily be lost when trying to kill off too many penalties. Pronger was also asked about the undisciplined defensive play.
“I think we shot ourselves in the foot,” said the star defenseman, “with the mistakes we made and the penalties we took.”
The game winner came at 4:30 in the final period. O’Donnell tracked the puck into the corner, followed tightly by the Leafs’ Darryl Boyce. After a scrum, Boyce won the battle and skated out of the corner with the puck to score a quick goal.
“Ya, we turned the puck over,” said Laviolette. “It’s in the back of our net, and there’s things we can tighten up for sure.”
It wasn’t just bad bounces or lost battles. Mental mistakes were also prevalent.
With less than a minute remaining and the goaltender pulled, veteran Kimmo Timonen fired the puck the length of the ice from his own blue line causing an icing call. The puck was brought all the way back to the Flyers’ end for a face off. That’s a late game mistake by a defenseman who’s been around.
The Eastern Conference leading Flyers are tied for eighth in third period goals allowed at 65. That’s more than each of the other two periods by nearly 20 goals. In the last seven games they’ve been out scored in the third, 11-5.
The trade deadline has past, and the blips in their play should have been resolved long ago. To keep their momentum going into the playoffs they’ll need to improve down the stretch.
“We need to be better in the third. We need to be more disciplined. There’s lots of things we could look back on, and like I said, we’re working on it,” Laviolette said. “This month is an important month for us for a lot of different reasons, and, you know, we can do better.”
The team will have a short rest before getting back to it on Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, like the Leafs, are a desperate team fighting for a playoff spot.
If the Flyers want to continue as the East’s top team, they’ll have to match their intensity and clean up the rough edges in their defense.