PHILADELPHIA – In the five games leading up to Saturday night’s contest against Colorado, Philadelphia outscored opponents 15-5 while on even strength, but was 0 for 12 on the power play. The Flyers flipped the script against the Avalanche, netting three goals with the man advantage en route to a 4-3 victory at home.
Although Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds skated on Flyers coach Craig Berube’s top-line for just the second time this season on Saturday, they’ve been together on the power play for much longer. The trio did sustain offensive pressure and generate scoring chances all game long, but they produced in a big way when the Avalanche were in the box.
The Flyers got a golden opportunity to cure their recent power play woes late in the first period when Nathan MacKinnon was given a five minute major for boarding after he sent Luke Schenn sprawling head-first into the backboards, and then out of the game. Patrick Roy, not known for having a docile demeanor throughout his career as a player and coach for Colorado, was irate with the call as he left his perch behind the bench to presumably argue that MacKinnon’s offense was not of the major variety. After the game Simmonds thought the decision could have been taken a step further.
“I thought he should have gotten kicked out the rest of the game,” Simmonds said. “The refs decided it was just a five minute, but that’s their decision you can’t do anything about that now.”
What Simmonds and the rest of the power play did do about it was capitalize on a major penalty situation that would allow them to score as many times as possible in five minutes. With under twenty seconds remaining in the first frame, Voracek sent the puck down low to Simmonds who then quickly ushered it along to Giroux on the side board. Not realizing how little time remained on the clock, Giroux held the puck for a few seconds before the crowd began to scream for him to shoot. The Flyers captain reacted swiftly and skillfully, sending off a quick wrist shot that just found the upper righthand portion of the twine with 2.9 seconds to go to make it 1-0.
Giroux humbly showed his appreciation to the hometown crowd as he sat down for a quick interview before the second intermission. “The fans should get an apple [assist] on that one,” he said.
Late period goals are always a back-breaker, but especially when a team is still on the power play after the intermission. Philadelphia took full advantage of their advantage in momentum and men as the second period began, cycling the puck around the Colorado zone with ease. The Flyers’ top line goes to work on the power play, and each man has their own corner office. Voracek and Giroux post up on the side boards, as does Simmonds in front of the net. A quick passing play between Voracek and Giroux got the puck to Simmonds wide open in his office with only the Avalanche goalie Reto Berra to beat, and Simmonds closed the deal. The three line and power play mates connected for the first two goals, and first six points of the game.
“We’ve been together for four years, we’ve been through ups and downs so many times,” Voracek said of his unit. “We were still calm and we knew that if we keep doing what were doing its going to in eventually. It worked out well today and we scored three goals.”
A hard-working even strength goal by Brayden Schenn from Matt Read put the Flyers up by three with under nine minutes to go in the second. As if Roy wasn’t livid enough that his defense allowed Schenn to tap-in a third chance opportunity, two quick Avalanche penalties sent the Flyers red-hot power play back onto the ice with a two-man advantage. This time it was easy, almost too easy. A tic-tac-toe play from Voracek to Lecavalier found Giroux all alone with an empty net on the back door, as he bounced it in with an ungraceful whiff, and a smirk.
“Power play’s been moving the puck well, it just wasn’t going in,” Giroux said. “We got a couple bounces and they were going in. Power play is going to be up and down during the season and we know that, but when it’s down we gotta find a way to get it back up.”
The power play definitely found a way on Saturday, helping put Philly up 4-0 over Colorado going into the third period. The Flyers collectively lost their way to start the third though as it was the Avalanche came out of the dressing room flying. Voracek registered Philly’s first shot of the period with just under 12 minutes to go, but by that time the Flyers’ four goal lead had already been cut in half. Former Flyer Maxime Talbot made a tremendous play along the boards to muscle RJ Umberger off the puck and set up Zach Remond in the slot, who calmly put it past Steve Mason’s blocker to make it a one-goal game with over nine minutes remaining.
On a night when the power play shined, it was the Flyers penalty kill that ultimately won the game. Braydon Coburn’s first game back from injury saw him take a holding penalty with 2:49 left in the third period. Even when Avalanche’s one man advantage became two as Roy pulled Berra immediately, the Philly PK stood strong. After a mad scramble and a few blocked shots, the Avalanche ran out of time.
“A win is a win in the end. We played a good two periods, we were good on the power play which we hadn’t been the week before, and it made a difference today,” Voracek said. “We found a way to win which is good but we have to be a little bit more on our toes in the third period.”
Opposing defenses will have to be on their toes as well, as the Philadelphia power play flexed its muscles Saturday night, it sure has the looks that it could be one of the league’s best. This vaunted unit and the rest of the Flyers will enjoy a five day break, then will look to continue a five-game home winning streak as they host the Blue Jackets on Friday night.