Flyers Fall in Shootout
Everything used to come easily for the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this season. No longer is that the case. In Sunday’s matchup with the New York Rangers, the team took the game’s first lead, surrendered it and then fell behind. Despite coming back to tie the game and dominating play in overtime, the shootout once again plagued the Flyers in a 3-2 defeat.
Although they failed to gain two points on Sunday, the team enters the final three games of the season tied with the Washington Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference. Gaining the top seed once seemed like it was inevitable for Philadelphia; now that’s no longer the case, either.
In the battle between the two rivals, it was the Orange and Black that struck first when James van Riemsdyk tallied with less than eight minutes remaining in the first period. Using excellent position in front of the net, van Riemsdyk found a loose rebound from a Sean O’Donnell point shot and flipped it past goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The goal was exactly the type of goal that the team has longed for this season, as the second-year forward was parked in front of the net as the point shot was fired. Lately, the Flyers have done little to generate a presence in the crease, something that is a necessity in the playoffs. Van Riemsdyk’s 21st of the season was indicative of the type of positioning they’ll need from him when the playoffs start next week.
During their successes this season, the Flyers would often score first, and then score often. Each line would feed off another, with the defense raising their level of play as they remained the aggressors. At this point, those days seem long gone, and Sunday was no different. With less than one second remaining until the first intermission, Bryan McCabe beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on a power play goal. After an encouraging first period effort, the Flyers failed to keep the Rangers off the board and lost any advantage that they held over the blue shirts.
New York learned from the Flyers mistake of not feeding off their success, as they came out strong in the second period. After weathering the Rangers’ storm for the first half of the period, it looked like the home team had finally caught a break when New York was called for a too many men on the ice penalty. Yet once again, the anemic Flyers power play failed, and the Rangers gained momentum with every second. Only 12 seconds after the man advantage had expired, Ruslan Fedotenko gave New York the lead.
In last year’s playoffs and in their long run of consistent success this season, the Flyers defense would clear the front of the net. It would be quite an uncommon occurrence to see opposing players unmarked on the crease’s doorstep. Recently, that hasn’t been the case for the blue liners on Broad Street and Fedotenko’s tap-in goal only further exemplified that.
Less than five minutes into the third period, the Flyers finally got the ever-elusive game-tying goal when Claude Giroux found Nikolay Zherdev streaking to the net in a four-on-four possession. The goal awoke the crowd at Wells Fargo Center, and it awoke the Flyers. They would go on to control the ice for much of the remaining 15 minutes of regulation and the five minute overtime period. But, Zherdev and Giroux failed to convert their shootout tries and both Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski converted their own.
The level of play that the Flyers showed in the last 20 minutes of the game was encouraging, yet befuddling. The team that looked like it would runaway and hide in the Eastern Conference at times this year just couldn’t quite convert. They couldn’t quite seal the deal. They couldn’t quite regain their stride. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t play to their ability, or maybe they’re lacking in confidence. To attempt to clearly pinpoint the exact flaw would most likely prove futile.
What is clear to pinpoint is that the Flyers are quickly approaching the playoffs without consistently playing playoff hockey. With each defensive lapse, the days of boasting the best defensive core in the league seem far too distant. Without the intensity that harnesses momentum and capitalizes on other team’s moments of weakness, the toughness of the team’s makeup seems much more inadequate than before. With every failed power play, the cloud of an early playoff exit gets darker and looms closer.
Philadelphia has three games to start introducing some answers to the questions that they’ve raised. It wasn’t long ago when the only questions raised were considered ‘nitpicking’ for the Eastern Conference’s top team.
No longer is that the case.