Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Too Many Trips to Comeback Well, Coburn, Pronger & More

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TOO MANY TRIPS TO COMEBACK WELL: FLYERS FALL 6-4 TO NEW JERSEY

What started out as a dreadfully dull home opener at the Wells Fargo Center turned into a wild game between the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. Ultimately, the Flyers suffered one letdown too many before an empty net goal sealed a 6-4 win for New Jersey.

After falling behind 3-0 early in the second period, the Flyers rallied for three-late period goals — including two in the final minute — to send the game to the second intermission tied at 3-3. The Flyers found themselves trailing 4-3 early in the third period, responded just 15 seconds later to tie the game and then fell behind for good less than three minutes after that. It was that sort of night.

Without question, the bright spot for the Flyers was the way they demonstrated the same type of resiliency that marked the team’s turnaround last season. The Flyers started generating frequent scoring chances and extensive power play pressure for several minutes before they finally broke through to put three-rapid fire goals on the board to the game.

A laser beam of a Claude Giroux power play goal with 4:16 remaining in the second period was followed by a Wayne Simmonds even strength goal with 57 seconds on the clock and a Simmonds power play goal with less than a half-second remaining. After falling behind 4-3 at 4:16 of the third period, Vincent Lecavalier scored on the line rush at 4:31 to re-tie the game.

Truth be told, the Devils really hadn’t done very much to build their initial three-goal lead over the first 25:33 of the game. The three goals came on nine shots.

The first, scored by Michael Ryder at 12:10 of the first period, was shot through a heavy screen in front of Steve Mason. Both Lecavalier and Adam Henrique were directly blocking Mason’s line of vision and the goal was scored high the long side as Mason, down the butterfly, tried to look around the screen. Ryane Clowe and Andy Greene received the assists.

At 2:10 of the second period, Lecavalier shanked the puck in his own zone and Ryder collected the turnover. A shot by Henrique, which was likely headed wide of the net, hit off Luke Schenn’s skate and re-directed past Mason.

The goal that made it 3-0 came at 5:33 of the middle stanza. Jaromir Jagr worked one-on-one against Michael Del Zotto and fired the puck at the net from inside the right point. Mike Cammalleri deftly deflected the puck from near the right circle and Mason again had no chance to stop the re-direction.

Far more egregious from a defensive standpoint were the breakdowns on New Jersey’s fourth and fifth goals after the Flyers pushed back to forge the 3-3 and 4-4 ties.

Goal number four saw longtime Flyers nemesis Patrik Elias left all alone at the back door — no Flyer was within 20 feet of him — to finish off a perfect three-way passing sequence from Martin Havlat to Marek Zidlicky to the eventual goal scorer. Elias had an easy tap-in.

The game-winning goal came at 7:13 of the third period. With Mark Streit caught up ice, the Devils countered on the rush. Former Flyers forward Dainius Zubrus fired a side angle shot that went in on the short side between the goalie’s pad and blocker.. Among the five goals that Mason yielded, this was the only one where the Flyers’ goalie was one of the main culprits. It should have been a fairly routine save and it turned out to be a backbreaker. Henrique and Ryder received the assists.

Philadelphia’s comeback efforts in the third period were twice stalled by minor penalties on Nicklas Grossmann. On the latter of the two, with 6:54 left in the game, Grossmann was beaten one-on-one by Jagr and was forced to take a holding penalty.

The Flyers pulled Mason for an extra attacker with about 1:25 left in the third period and generated one good foray. Ultimately, the Devils got the puck out of the zone. With exactly one minute left in the game, Cammalleri sealed the game with an empty net goal from near the blue line. Jagr received the lone assist.

For the night, Mason stopped 20 of 25 shots. Although he was not to blame on four of the five goals, his performance was nowhere close to the effort he churned out in Boston on Wednesday. At the other end of the ice, Cory Schneider stopped 35 of 39 Flyers’ shots.

Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn was on the ice for all five of New Jersey’s non-empty net goals and finished the night at minus-five. Partner defenseman Del Zotto was out for four New Jersey even strength goals plus the empty netter at the end and finished at minus-four (he got a plus-one for being on the ice for Simmonds’ first goal). Streit (minus-two/plus-one, one of four attempted shots on net) and Grossmann (several icings, two penalties, one bad turnover but a game-high four blocks and plus-one) weren’t much better.

Among the Flyers forwards, Lecavalier played a hand in two Devils goals and two Philadelphia goals. He had a nifty assist on the Simmonds’ buzzer-beating power play goal at the end of the second period and later sniped the goal that made it 4-4. That more or less balanced his ledger (despite a minus-one at even strength).

Giroux had a goal and an assist on the power play but was minus-four at even strength including the empty netter at the end. Voracek (one assist, two shots on goal in five attempts) and Michael Raffl (10:15 of ice time, five hits, two missed shot attempts) were also minus four.

Apart from the Flyers’ breakdowns on the final two goals, their biggest team defensive sin the Flyers committed on many of the New Jersey goals were yielding carry-ins on zone entries and a few instances of poor gap control. The overall defensive play was acceptable early, but went downhill as the game progressed.

Unlike Wednesday’s 2-1 opening night loss in Boston, special teams worked in Philly’s favor in this game. The Flyers went 2-for-5 on the power play and generated significant pressure on two other power plays where they didn’t score. The penalty kill went 3-for-3.

The Flyers will go back to the drawing board on Saturday night when the Montreal Canadiens come to town. Both clubs will be in the third game of a three-in-four stretch to open the season, so fatigue will by no means be an acceptable explanation for failure. The Flyers will not hold any on-ice practice tomorrow but there will be off-ice workouts.

***************** FLYERS LOSE COBURN FOR EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME

Flyers top-pairing defenseman Braydon Coburn was not in the lineup in the home opener. He sustained a lower body injury in the opener in Boston. The injury may have occurred on a play where Coburn took a shot by the Bruins’ Torey Krug, but that is not known for certain. Coburn was on crutches during the pregame introductions of Flyers’ players and coaches.

“He’s going to be re-evaluated tonight and again in the next few days,” said Flyers general manager Ron Hextall after the pregame warmups. “It’s not going to be day-to-day. I believe this is going to take some time, but I don’t have a final diagonosis or prognosis.”

Hextall said that the team’s plan for accounting for the absence of Coburn — who is one of the team’s toughest-to-replace players despite the criticism he regularly receives from a portion of the fanbase — will depend on the timetable that is set for the player’s return. The general seems to prefer having a veteran in the lineup to turning to a rookie such as Shayne Gostisbehere or a second-year pro such as Mark Alt.

The makeshift pairing of Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz (who dressed in Coburn’s place) actually had a pretty solid game against the Devils. However, Schultz is not really a viable long-term replacement candidate for Coburn. The club will be a bit hard-pressed to come up with one right now.

Nicklas Grossmann nor Mark Streit had mediocre games in the home opener. Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto had nightmarish nights by the time all was said and done.

************** QUICK HITS

* It was widely reported throughout the evening that the NHL will go ahead with the hiring of Chris Pronger for an advisory role in the Department of Player Safety. From a Flyers standpoint, what matters is that Pronger’s salary will not count against their salary cap. He will not have to retire until the expiration of his Flyers contract and will be on the non-roster injured list. Hextall did not want to comment on the matter, deferring it to the NHL.

* QMJHL: The Rimouski Oceanic suffered a 3-0 home setback on Thursday night at the hands of the Shawinigan Cataractes. Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin was even for the game with four shots on goal, two credited hits and a late third-period unsportsmanlike conduct minor.

* Flyers Alumni Birthdays: Pronger celebrates his 40th birthday day. Dipsy doodling early 1980s era forward Ron Flockhart turns 54 today. Brief-tenured Flyers defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, whom the Flyers traded to the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire Braydon Coburn, turns 42.

* Today in Flyers History: On Oct. 10, 1984, the Flyers traded veteran star Darryl Sittler to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for promising young forward Murray Craven and Joe Paterson. The move was controversial at the time, especially because the Flyers made the trade on the same day that Sittler was supposed to be named captain of the team. Ultimately, however, the deal worked out in the Flyers’ favor. Sittler was on the downside of his career by that point, while Craven soon became one of the NHL more underrated two-way forwards.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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