Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Comeback Hockey Finally Pays Off for Flyers



No team wants to rely too frequently on playing comeback hockey. The Philadelphia Flyers, however, are not afraid to do it. Quite frankly, they get a little too much practice at it but they also happen to be good at it.

In three of five games this season, the Flyers have pulled off multi-goal comebacks.

Four times, they have trailed in the third period and have come back to tie the game at some point. The only game the team has not had to come back was the one against Montreal where Philly took a 3-0 lead into the third period only to squander it themselves.

Through five games this season, comeback hockey and the power play have been Philly’s lifeline. Unfortunately, there’s more to hockey than that, and the team’s 1-2-2 record is a reflection of its defensive flaws.

On Saturday night, the Flyers won a seesaw overtime game in Dallas by a 6-5 final. It was just about as ugly as a win can get but the Flyers will gladly take it. However, even after the game, Craig Berube was not happy with what he saw from his team defensively, especially in the second period.

Offensively at least, the Flyers were better at five-on-five than they were in many of their previous games. It’s also worth noting that they held the Stars to one shot for the first 10:30 of the third period and outshot the Stars by a 21-13 margin after the first period. However, this was overshadowed by costly defensive lapses.

Goaltending was an issue for the Stars in this game, along with frequent defensive breakdowns. The usually dependable Kari Lehtonen, who remains winless for his NHL career in appearances against the Flyers, was shaky for much the game. He stopped 31 of 37 shots for the game but was frequently caught out of position and a bit leaky with his rebound control.

For the Flyers, goaltending wasn’t the problem but team defense certainly was. Steve Mason had an ugly stat line (14 saves on 18 shots) and was pulled after two periods but had no prayer on any of the four goals he yielded. The goaltending switch was strictly a “wake up the team” move by Berube. Ray Emery (four saves on five shots) also had no chance on a Jason Spezza second-effort goal from the doorstep.

Between the two teams, 22 different players had at least one point in the game. Thirteen were Flyers players, nine were Stars.

Jakub Voracek (one goal, two assists) had a three-point night for the Flyers, while Claude Giroux (overtime power play goal, one assist) and Andrew MacDonald (power play goal, one assist) had two-point games. Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl had one goal apiece. Mark Streit had two assists. Defensemen Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto and Luke Schenn (who assisted on brother Brayden’s goal for the first time in their Flyers careers), goaltender Mason and forwards Matt Read and R.J. Umberger had a helper apiece.

The Dallas assault was led by four-point nights for Spezza (one goal, three assists) and Tyler Seguin (four assists). Defenseman Trevor Daley scored a pair of power play goals from the right circle that were almost identical plays. Stars captain Jamie Benn scored a late second-period goal from point blank range (a goal that Berube was still fuming about after the game). Dallas also got an early second-period tally from Erik Cole and one assist apiece from checking forwards Shawn Horcoff and Patrick Eaves as well as defenseman Jordie Benn.

The Flyers outscored the Stars, 2-1, in the first period but yielded the game’s first goal. Philly came into the game having killed nine of 10 penalties this season but Dallas cashed in on two of three power plays in this game.

After the Flyers were called for a too many men on the ice penalty midway through the first period, Daley scored from the right circle on a cross-ice pass from Seguin. One the pass got across, Mason had no chance to get over to make the save. Spezza earned the secondary assist at 11:32.

At 13:16 of the first period, Philly tied the game at 1-1. Couturier tapped home a rebound from the doorstep after an initial shot by R.J. Umberger bounced off a Dallas defender and then off Lehtonen’s skate. MacDonald got the other assist.

The Flyers took their first and only lead of regulation at 15:09. Brayden Schenn cashed in a rebound of brother Luke’s point shot. Mason got a secondary assist.

Dallas tied the game at 2-2 on a line rush goal just 2:46 into the second period. The sequence started with a stretch pass from Brenden Dillon to Patrick Eaves. With Luke Schenn caught out of position in the neutral zone, Horcoff receive the puck and led a 2-on-1 rush. Streit’s attempted dive to deny the pass failed, Cole finished the play on the other side before any Flyers forwards got back. Zac Rinaldo was the closest Flyer on the play.

After the Flyers were called for their second too many men on the ice penalty of the game — a call with which Berube said after the game that he vehemently disagreed — Daley scored his second goal of the game to give Dallas a 3-2 lead at 18:33. The play was a carbon copy of the first goal, with Seguin once again receiving the first assist and Spezza the second.

Dallas built a 4-2 lead with just 31 seconds remaining in the third period. On this play, Nick Schultz, Streit and two Flyers forwards were caught behind the net and Seguin feathered a centering pass out to a wide open Benn on the doorstep. Once again, Mason had no chance at a save. Spezza got the secondary assist.

Mason was replaced by Emery to start the third period. The period was spent in the Dallas end of the ice for long stretches of time. Finally, at the 8:22 mark, the Flyers second power play unit narrowed the gap to 4-3. MacDonald pinched up to near the top of the left circle and fired a shot that got through Lehtonen. Del Zotto and Read got the assists.

Jakub Voracek drew the Flyers even at 4-4 at the 14:14 mark. Giroux made the sequence possible with a nice set up to a pinching Schultz, and Voracek potted the rebound in front.

The tie game lasted just 40 seconds. Spezza followed up his own initial shot from near the right post as Emery lunged back and made a nearly miraculous first save but couldn’t stop the second effort by Spezza. Jordie Benn and Seguin got the assists.

At 16:07, the Flyers tied the game as Dallas fell victim to an own goal for the second straight game. Raffl put the puck at the net from the right circle and it bounced off Daley into the net to make it a 5-5 game. Voracek and Streit received the assists.

With less than four seconds remaining in regulation, Jamie Benn was called for closing his hand on the puck on a defensive zone faceoff. The Flyers entered overtime on a 4-on-3 power play.

The Flyers were unable to cash in on the advantage, coming close once as Voracek rang a shot off the post. However at the 2:09 mark, they went right back to the power play. There are extremely lively new boards at the American Airlines Center, and Lehtonen was caught hopelessly out of position as a puck caromed off the end wall and past him. Daley was forced to hook Umberger to prevent an easy tap-in goal to end the game.

Forty seconds into the Flyers’ second 4-on-3 power play of overtime, the game ended. Giroux fired a shot from the left side through a partial screen by Wayne Simmonds. The puck sneaked past Lehtonen to win the game for the Flyers. Streit and Voracek got the assists.

The Flyers road trip continues on Tuesday night in Chicago. The following night, Philly has a road clash with the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins. NOTES AND QUOTES

* The Flyers won 61 percent of their faceoffs, going 42-for-69 as a team. Sean Couturier won 74 percent (17-for-23) while Claude Giroux won 59 percent (17-for-29).

* According to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (14:58 of ice time, 1 shot, 7 for 13 on faceoffs, plus one), tonight’s game marked the first two players from France played in the same NHL game. Bellemare said he went out for dinner last night with Stars counterpart Antoine Roussel (10:07 of ice time, one shot, minus one) but the two did not discuss the game.

* Continuing a defense pairing change that was made last game, Berube placed Nicklas Grossmann (18:25 of ice time, even) with Andrew MacDonald (21:27 of ice time, even, power play goal) on the first pairing and Nick Schultz (17:43) with Mark Streit (26:26) on the second pairing. Berube said he wanted to get a big body out against the Seguin line at even strength.

* Jason Akeson was a healthy scratch in this game, while Chris VandeVelde dressed in his place.

* Braydon Coburn was in the press box for the game, still sporting a walking boot on his left foot. Officially, he remains day-to-day.

* Stars defenseman Patrik Nemeth suffered a nasty laceration on his right arm on his first shift

of the game as he accidentally got cut by R.J. Umberger’s skate blade. Down to five defensemen, the Stars double-shifted Brenden Dillon, who logged a massive 30:32 of ice time, blocking four shots, doling out three credited hits and starting the rush that ended in Erik Cole’s goal.

* Craig Berube was asked to assess the Flyers’ performance. He said, ” Coming out of that second period, I thought we had a real good period going and we ended up giving them a power play which you know it’s not the right call, but we got to do a better job of killing it and then we give up that goal at the end of the period, which really bothered me. The team has to learn to quit chasing games so much. Going down one goal going into the third period, that’s not a huge deal. But going down two goals, it makes it a lot tougher. So that’s the kind of stuff that we got to clean up.”

* Mark Streit’s take on the win: “Well, it was really ugly. I haven’t seen many games like that or been part of it, anyway. It’s a big roadtrip for us. They’re a good team. A lot of speed. A lot of skill. A really good PP. To kind of steal that game here out of Dallas feels pretty good and hopefully gives us a lot of energy and confidence.”

* Dallas coach Lindy Ruff was, understandably, even less pleased with what he saw than Flyers’ counterpart Berube. Ruff called his team’s performance “garbage hockey” and went on to say, “We lost focus of what we need to be, All of the sudden, we thought, ‘Let’s try to score six or seven,’ but that’s not the way this league works. When you’re up a couple of goals, you defend. You don’t give up situations, you don’t take bad penalties. You only get away with so much so long, and we paid dearly for it.”

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