Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Bounce Back in the ‘Burgh, Quick Hits



Whatever the flaws in the hockey team, something no one can say about the Philadelphia Flyers (2-3-2) is that the team lacks resiliency. Heading into the club’s just-completed three-game road trip through Dallas, Chicago and Pittsburgh, earning four of a possible six points would have been considered a success. It wasn’t always pretty but the bottom line right now is that Philly won two of the three games.

Last night in Pittsburgh, the Flyers shrugged off a slow start in the first period and skated off with a 5-3 victory. Mark Streit, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (first NHL goal), R.J. Umberger (first goal since his return to the Flyers), Matt Read (first goal of the season) and Sean Couturier (empty net goal to cap off a three-point game) tallied for Philadelphia. Ray Emery stopped 22 of 25 shots to earn the win.

Nick Spaling, Pascal Dupuis and Marcel Goc scored goals for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury (29 saves on 34 shots) took the loss in goal.

The Penguins outshot the Flyers by an 11-7 margin in the first period but Philadelphia exited the period with a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh returned the favor in the middle stanza, getting outshot 17-6 but tying the game at 2-2 heading into the third period. Philadelphia narrowly outshot Pittsburgh in the third period, 9-8, but deposited three in the cash register to one for the Penguins.

In achieving the win, the Flyers accomplished a host of good things. First and foremost, they were able to put Tuesday’s ugly 4-0 loss in Chicago in the rear view mirror and bounce right back to defeat the arch-rival Penguins the next night.

The Flyers, who entered the game having been outscored 17-10 in five-on-five play, scored five goals at even strength against the Penguins and were a plus-two in that department. Philly got balanced scoring on this night, with multiple lines contributing to the attack. The team found good shooting lanes and, just as important, forced Fleury to make saves. Of the Flyers’ 49 shot attempts, 35 were on net (eight got blocked, seven missed the net).

Pittsburgh entered the game with a staggering 47 percent success ratio on the power play. The Flyers played shorthanded just twice in the game – the team has significantly cut down on penalties in the early going of this season – and killed both penalties.

The game was hardly a defensive masterpiece by Philly, but it was at least a step in the right direction for a club that has yielded three or more goals in all but one game to date. The Flyers did a much improved job at puck possession and neutral zone containment. As the game progressed, the Penguins weren’t apply to generate nearly as many carry-ins as Chicago did the previous night. Most notably, the Flyers held Sidney Crosby off the scoreboard for only the 12th time in 49 career regular season games.

With the victory, the Flyers ran their all-time regular season record at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center to 10-1-1 (12-2-1 if the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals are included). Overall, the Flyers have now won five games in a row against the Penguins.

The Flyers got outplayed over the first eight to 10 minutes of the opening period. At 3:50, shortly after the expiration of Chris VandeVelde’s penalty for hooking Crosby, Spaling outdueled Couturier near the net and beat Emery to the blocker side. Christian Ehrhoff and Blake Comeau received the assists.

At 9:20, Philly drew even at 1-1. With Michael Raffl screening Fleury, Mark Streit unleased a slap shot that deflected off Evgeni Malkin’s stick and into the net. The goal was originally credited to Raffl, but replays showed Raffl was not the one who re-directed the puck. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek earned the helpers.

The Flyers took their first lead at 13:18 of the first period. Bellemare deftly re-directed the puck over Fleury’s glove as Couturier sent it toward the net. Nick Schultz was credited with the secondary assist.

In the second period, the Flyers enjoyed a significant territorial advantage for much of the period. For all the complaints about Philly not being a good skating team, they were able to keep up just fine with both the Dallas Stars (who are one of the fastest teams in the NHL) and the Penguins when they actually kept their feet moving and control the gaps. It’s when the team gets stationary and too spread out, such as the third period of the Montreal game and the first period of the Chicago game that the Flyers give up the blueline time and again and struggle to get the puck out of their zone.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, Pittsburgh generated the period’s only goal despite Philly’s 17-6 shot advantage and several multiple-crack flurries around Fleury. At the 9:00 mark of the middle stanza, Dupuis put in the rebound of a pinballing shot that initially came off the stick of defenseman Paul Martin. Malkin got the secondary assist as Pittsburgh re-tied the game at 2-2.

The third period opened with 1:19 of carryover four-on-four play from offsetting minors late in the second period to Philadalphia’s Schultz for hooking and Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz for embellishing the hook. Neither team scored.

Malkin nearly put Pittsburgh ahead around six minutes into the third period, coming within a whisker of scoring. Officials ruled that the puck did not cross the goal line. At 6:50, the Flyers went ahead to stay. Umberger drove toward the net, received a pass from Giroux, and sent the puck past Fleury to put the Flyers ahead, 3-2. Along with Giroux, Voracek earned his second assist of the game and seventh of the young season.

Exactly two minutes later, the Flyers got what would prove to be a very valuable insurance goal. Read received a pass from Couturier and beat Fleury with a backhand flip to make it a 4-2 game. Pittsburgh native Umberger, who has had considerable success against the Penguins over the course of his career, got the other assist.

The Flyers nursed their two-lead until time ticked down below three minutes remaining in regulation. At 17:03, Goc beat a sprawling Emery to cut the Pittsburgh deficit back to a single goal. Spaling and ex-Flyers forward Steve Downie (first point as a Penguin) received the assists.

With 27 seconds left in the game, Couturier captured the puck and iced the game with an unassisted empty goal. The tally was Couturier’s third of the season in seven games. Last season, Couturier did not notch his third goal of the season until Nov. 30.

The Flyers finished the game 0-for-2 on the power play; a wash with their 2-for-2 on the penalty kill. Philly earned its first power play with 1:13 left in the first period. Pittsburgh’s Simon Depres drilled Couturier away from the puck. Linemate Umberger, who does not fight very often, stood up for his teammate and dropped the gloves with Despres. The Penguins’ defenseman received an extra minor penalty for interference on the play.

With mostly even strength play during the game, the Flyers rolled all three defense pairs for most of the game with no one skating less than 16:44 (Michael Del Zotto) or more than 21:25 (Andrew MacDonald). In addition to MacDonald, both Mark Streit (21:07) and Nicklas Grossmann (20:01) topped the 20-minute ice time mark.

Flyers coach Craig Berube shortened the bench with his forward rotation. With Philly rolling three lines as the game progressed, Giroux logged a team-high 21:39 of ice time, while Read shouldered a 20:23 load and Couturier skated 19:27.

Zac Rinaldo, who left the game after two periods with an upper-body injury, skated 5:17 of ice time before departing. His fourth-line linemate, Jason Akeson (5:19 TOI), rode the bench in crunch time, while Chris VandeVelde (6:53, minus-two) was seldom used as the game progressed.

With their road trip complete, the Flyers will return home to the Delaware Valley. They’ll have a light day today following their back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Friday, there will be a full practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees in preparation for Saturday night’s game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Detroit Red Wings. On Tuesday night, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings will come to town.


* WHL: Flyers 2013 third-round pick Tyrell Goulbourne scored an even strength goal and a power play tally for the Kelowna Rockets in a 4-2 win over Tri-City on Wednesday. Since recovering from elbow surgery and rejoining Kelowna as an overage junior player, the 20-year-old Goulbourne (who will turn 21 on January 26) has notched four goals, six points and one fighting major in five games.

* QMJHL: The Val-d’Or Foreurs are back in road action tonight, taking on Sherbrooke. Flyers 2014 second round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel missed last game with an undisclosed injury.

* Today in Flyers History: On Oct. 23, 1983, the Flyers reunited young forward Ron Sutter with his twin brother, Rich. The Flyers traded Ron Flockhart, a 1984 first-round pick (Roger Belanger) and a 1984 third-round pick (later dealt to Vancouver and used for the selection of Mike Stevens) to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In return, the Flyers received Rich Sutter, a 1984 second-round pick (Greg Smyth) and a 1984 third-round pick (David McLay).

* Today in Flyers History: On the same night that the Phillies lost the sixth and deciding game of the 1993 World Series in heartbreaking fashion, the Flyers lost a wild and woolly game at the Spectrum with the Winnipeg Jets by a 9-6 score. Philly trailed 3-0 by the 6:47 mark of the opening period, roared back to score four straight goals and take a 4-3 lead by 2:25 of the second period. Winnipeg and the Flyers then traded off goals, with Philly taking a 5-4 lead. The Jets then scored three unanswered goals to go ahead, 7-5. After the Flyers cut the deficit to 7-6, Winnipeg pulled away with two more goals in the latter half of the third period.

All six of the Flyers’ goals came at even strength. Rookie forward Mikael Renberg led the way for Philly with two goals and an assist, while Mark Recchi had one goal and two helpers. Eric Lindros scored a goal, as did Rod Brind’Amour and Josef Beranek. Flyers head coach Terry Simpson left Tommy Söderström in for the whole game, and the Swede stopped just 23 of 32 shots.

For Winnipeg, Teemu Selänne shredded the Flyers defense and Söderström for two goals and three assists. Keith Tkachuk had a hat trick. Alexei Zhamnov racked up one goal and four assists. Teppo Numminen compiled three assists. Thomas Steen had a goal and two helpers. Nelson Emerson scored shorthanded. In net, starter Stephane Beauregard stopped seven of 10 shots before giving way to Bob Essensa (18 saves on 21 shots).

* Phantoms beat writer Gary Blockus had a good article yesterday on the goaltending tandem of veteran Rob Zepp. The article also looks at Terry Murray’s use of “line pairs” among his forwards.

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