Flyers Harness the Right Type of Physicality In Their Win
Heading into Sunday night, the Flyers had allowed seven straight goals, blowing a 4-1 lead to Pittsburgh to lose 5-4 on Thursday and then getting shut-out 3-0 to the Bruins on Saturday.
Speed and an inability to have a physical presence in front of the net cost the Flyers the game on Thursday. Saturday's loss was three minutes of embarrassing hockey in which they were again out-worked.
Compound those two losses with the 4-2 loss to New York on Tuesday in which the Rangers scored three unanswered to win and the Flyers found themselves on a three-game losing streak and three games under .500.
Hosting the last-place Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, the Flyers needed to drastically change something.
They were faster, more physical and they didn't let up off the gas while holding a lead. It lead them to a gritty 3-2 win over the Sabres, snapping the skid and giving themselves something to build upon.
"We talked about coming out here tonight and actually playing with an edge," forward Max Talbot said after the game. "We’re finishing our checks a bit more; we’re a dangerous team when we skate, play physical and have two guys on the forecheck. I think we did all that better tonight."
The Flyers know how important the first goal is. They got it against the Penguins and jumped out to a huge 4-1 lead. And then in Boston, they saw how things snowballed after the Bruins jumped out to the 1-0 lead.
Playing with an early lead gives teams that edge. It allows the killer instinct to appear and the Flyers showed a bit of that in the first period.
"Not that you're nervous about the start but now the last two games, especially the one in Boston, they got the lead pretty early in the game," said winger Simon Gagne, who scored on the power play to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in.
"We know that the start in Boston was not the way you want to start a game so getting that first one can help us to, I don't want to say be more comfortable because you can't not be comfortable out there, but play more and more your style, more relaxed out there, and not nervous with the puck. That seemed to help us get that first one and get rolling after that. Overall I thought that our game was a lot better tonight."
Holding a 2-0 lead in the first, the Flyers gave up a bad goal to the Sabres forward Brian Flynn, cutting the lead 2-1. But they bounced back after the goal, extending their lead to 3-1 in the second period thanks to Claude Giroux.
After Giroux's goal, they continued to control the physical play and it left Buffalo aiming to exact revenge on some of the questionable hits dished out.
Towards the end of the first period, Wayne Simmonds checked Tyler Ennis into the boards, knocking him out of the game with an upper body injury. Ennis appeared to stop and turn at the last minute as Simmonds came in front the side, causing Ennis to be driven head first into the boards.
Sabres defenseman Mike Weber went after Simmonds and the two fought. The fight was one-sided in favor of Simmonds, and to add insult to injury, Weber got two minutes for the instigator and a 10-minute game misconduct while Simmonds just got the fighting major.
Later in the third, Luke Schenn boarded Nathan Gerbe, earning himself a trip to the sin bin for two minutes.
Those two plays aside, the physical play all game was led by Zac Rinaldo, who managed to draw five Sabres penalties, including a 10-minute misconduct to John Scott as well as being a thorn in Steve Ott's side all game.
Rinaldo also tallied five hits with four coming in the first period. On his opening shift, he put the body on Steve Ott twice, sparking his fourth line to let the hit parade continue and really set the early tone of the game.
“It just puts us on the puck," said Brayden Schenn. "[Rinaldo] is always physical. He had a good opening shift and just got the team involved. When guys are hitting it get us on the puck and creates offense for us.”
Rinaldo had Ott and Scott going after him the entire game, combining for 14 penalty minutes. At the end of the second, Ott intentionally interfered with Rinaldo trying to take out his hip and it gave the Flyers a power play that carried into the third.
"Yeah anytime you can draw a penalty, it’s huge and you can get the momentum going and get them frustrated," Giroux said of Rinaldo's pestering.
In all, they Flyers had six power play chances, scoring on two of them. Possessing the puck and forcing the Sabres to chase the Flyers around all game is what lead to those chances, Talbot said.
"When you have the puck, I think that’s when the other team is going to take penalties," Talbot said. "We saw what happened yesterday in Boston; we had the puck more often, so we were running after the puck. Tonight we kept it simple and put it in an area where we could recover it. We had the puck, so the other team had to take more penalties."
The Flyers will get the next couple of days off and will prepare for a home-and-home with the struggling New Jersey Devils on Wednesday and Friday. With only two games this week, the Flyers can recharge their batteries a bit and focus on making another push to get back into the hunt.
Gagne said they could be the biggest games of the season for the Flyers. "After those two games it could make a big difference about where we are in the standings," Gagne added.
If the Flyers can take both games against the Devils, it could finally give them the momentum they need. But if they can't win, it could seal their fate as being on the outside looking in with only 21 games remaining.
"I think every game for us is going to be crucial," said Ilya Brzygalov. "We are not in the position to take games off or weeks off. For us, every game is do or die pretty much."