Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Tampa Nips Flyers, Colaiacovo Signed, Quick Hits

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FLYERS DROP SEVENTH STRAIGHT IN TAMPA

The last time the Philadelphia Flyers won a game in Tampa Bay was February 15, 2011. On that night, it took a seven-round shootout before Kimmo Timonen secured a bonus point from a 3-3 tie as goaltender Brian Boucher stopped 24 shots in regulation and overtime and six of seven in the skills competition.

Philadelphia’s last genuine (i.e., regulation or overtime) win in Tampa was a 7-2 drubbing of the Lightning on March 2, 2010. The game saw Steven Stamkos notch two goals for the Lightning and the match entered the third period tied at 2-2 before Philly exploded for five unanswered goals in the third period.

Fast forward 1,704 days, and Stamkos again scored two goals against Philadelphia in the Bolts’ home barn now known as the Amalie Arena. This time, however, it was in a winning cause. Last night in Tampa Bay, the Flyers stretch of losses in Tampa reached seven consecutive games in a hard-fought 4-3 regulation decision.

Apart from Stamkos sniping two goals (the first of which was a highlight reel shot), the Lightning got an early-game deflection tally from Vladimir Namestnikov and a Jason Garrison power play goal with 3:12 remaining in the third period. Ben Bishop earned the win in net with 24 saves.

The Flyers never led in the game but battled hard throughout and demonstrated some of their renowned comeback ability in evening up the game at 1-1 in the first period and twice trimming two-goal deficits to one before simply running out of time at the end of the third period. Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek (one goal, one assist) and Michael Raffl scored goals for Philly, while Claude Giroux notched a pair of assists. Ray Emery was strong again in net despite yielding four tallies on 32 shots, but absorbed his first loss of the season.

Three reasons the Flyers lost on this night:

1. The Flyers took too many penalties (a few were debatable calls). They paid the price both in terms of stalled momentum and a pair of Tampa power play tallies.

2. More often than not, when the Flyers lose games, it’s even strength play that is their undoing. On this night, the Flyers outscored Tampa 3-2 at even strength but went 0-for-2 on the power play to the Lightning’s 2-for-5.

3. Stamkos shot the lights out. Both of his goals were beauties. While the Flyers top line played very well in its own right and produced two of Philly’s three goals, both Giroux and Voracek had a pair of great looks at the net at key junctures of the game and missed the target.

The Flyers got off to a very sluggish start as the first half of the opening stanza was dominated by the Lightning. Only the strong goaltending of Emery kept the score to a manageable 1-0 deficit. Tampa outshot the Flyers, 4-0 over the first 6:25 of the game and piled up a 14-4 shot edge into the early second period.

Thereafter, the Flyers settled in and the rest of the game was fairly even and quite competitive. Nevertheless, Philly had to play catch-up hockey.

At the 3:29 mark of the first period, Tampa jumped out to a 1-0 lead. A center point one-timer by defenseman Anton Strålman off a pass from rookie Jonathan Drouin double deflected into then net off Flyers forward Jason Akeson and then Namestnikov.

Replays showed that Drouin’s pass to Strålman went entirely over the blueline before the defenseman shot the puck, thus making the play offside. However, it was such a split-second play that it’s easy to understand how it was missed by linesmen Steve Barton and veteran Shane Heyer. On the play, Namestnikov got into good position in the slot as Flyers callup defenseman Brandon Manning failed to contain him.

The Flyers evened up the score at 12:43 of the first period on just their fourth shot of the opening frame. Simmonds, who had continued to get scoring chances in recent games despite a five-game point drought, was finally rewarded again for going to the net.

The Flyers assistant captain carried the puck into the offensive zone and passed it to linemate Brayden Schenn. In turn, Schenn made a good feed to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare over the middle as Simmonds went for the net. Bishop made the initial stop but Simmonds quickly claimed the rebound and stashed it home. Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr was way out of position on this shift, weakly fronting Bellemare and failing to deny Schenn’s pass.

The 1-1 tie held through the remainder of the first period. Tampa finished the frame with a 9-4 shot advantage. In the second stanza, the Bolts were credited with a 13-8 shot on goal edge. The official total seemed a bit suspect as the actual gameplay appeared a little more even than that.

With Zac Rinaldo in the box for an offensive zone roughing penalty on Brian Boyle late in the second period, Tampa re-took the lead at 2-1. The Flyers momentarily caught a break as Emery stumbled moving laterally and Valtteri Filppula missed a gaping net. They weren’t so lucky moments later. Stamkos received a pass from Garrison up high in the offensive zone, skated to the outer left circle and measured a wrist shot with bodies in front and Emery hugging the post that found the short-side top corner. Plain and simple, it was a superstar’s goal.

The Flyers opened the third period with a two-minute power play. Radko Gudas picked up a needless roughing minor against Claude Giroux upon the expiration of the second period, touching off a lot of pushing and shoving before the clubs retired to the dressing rooms. Philadelphia wasn’t able to do anything with its power play, apart from one excellent scoring chance in which Voracek missed the net.

At the 2:28 mark of the third period, Nicklas Grossmann picked up a careless high sticking minor. Grossmann has played well for the most part this season — especially in the Pittsburgh, Detroit and LA games — but last night’s game was arguably his worst overall game of the 10 played to date.

The first period was especially poor. Moments into the game’s first shift, Grossmann taking an icing because he hammered an unplayable pass attempt toward Giroux when there there was no need to do anything but feather the puck. Later in the first period, Emery bailed the big Swede out three times in the first period when Grossmann’s check got away from him. In the third period came the high sticking penalty that cost the Flyers two valuable minutes off the clock.

The Flyers survived the penalty but, at 5:30, found themselves in a 3-1 hole.

On this critical sequence, the Flyers ended with three players — Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Michael Del Zotto — stationed virtually parallel to one another in the circle to Emery’s left. With Grossmann jostling with a Tampa forward near the opposite post and Voracek guarding the middle of the slot, Stamkos moved unimpeded into shooting range in the opposite circle. Once Filppula feathered a cross-ice pass through a seam in between the three Flyers on his side, the Flyers were at Stamkos’ mercy. Stamkos buried the puck for his eighth goal of the season. Alex Killorn earned the secondary assist.

To their credit, Philly kept battling. A little more than a minute after the Stamkos goal (6:38), the Flyers drew back within one goal. Bishop, who was nearly scored on moments earlier, was unable to contain the rebound of a Manning shot. The defenseman did a nice job of finding a shooting lane. Voracek got to the loose puck first and, upon a second swing at the puck, stashed it through Bishop’s pads into the net.

At the 14:52 mark, the Flyers got whistled for too many men on the ice by referee Tim Peel. On the sequence, Bellemare was retiring to the bench as Raffl jumped out on the far side. Although Bellemare was within the allowed five feet of the bench and was out of the play — actually he cruised alongside the bench rather casually — the penalty was called as Raffl received the puck and hit the offensive blueline with speed.

There is not doubt that Bellemare messed up here by not getting off the ice sooner. There is also no doubt that is something that almost always gets let go, especially late in a close game.

HockeyBuzz’s officiating authority, Paul Stewart, often talks about the need for officials to have a feel for the game when making judgment calls. The biggest issue many within hockey have with the much-maligned Peel is that he utterly lacks feel for the game. This was a call that absolutely should not have been made at that juncture — regardless of which team got whistled.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube screamed “Timmy!” among many expletives, but his player set up a judgment call by an official who habitually lacks good judgment. Moreover, it wasn’t like Peel tossed the puck into the Flyers’ net on the ensuing Tampa Bay power play and ordered the goal light turned on. The Flyers penalty kill failed them again and the Bolts earned what proved to be a critical goal.

At the 16:48 mark, the hard-shooting Garrison hammered home a slap shot from the middle of the ice above the circles. Stamkos and Filppula received the assists as Tampa opened a 4-2 lead.

Philly refused to go quietly. The Flyers pulled Emery for an extra attacker with a little over two minutes left in regulation. With 54 seconds left in the game, moments after shot attempts by Giroux and Raffl got blocked, Voracek made a perfect cross ice feed from the right side boards to Raffl in the left slot. Raffl, who re-tied Simmonds for the team goal scoring lead, quickly fired home his sixth goal of the season to cut the deficit to 4-3. Giroux received the secondary assist.

The Flyers spent the remainder of the game deep in Tampa territory and even fired one last shot on net as time was about to expire. They just ran out of time to get one more past Bishop, who did not have one of his best games. Philly finished the third period with a 15-10 shot advantage but the two goals for each team essentially canceled each other out after Tampa took a one-goal lead into the final stanza.

Despite the loss, the Flyers did some good things in this game after their poor start. Here are eight positive takeaways:

1) The top line buzzed frequently in the offensive zone. The line accounted for 14 of the Flyers’ shots in this game. Raffl now has four goals in his last three games.

2) Voracek has registered at least one point in nine of 10 games. This was his fourth consecutive game of two points or more, and fifth already this season. The Czech right winger is the first Flyer to record four consecutive multi-point games since Simon Gagne recorded five consecutive multi-point games from Feb. 8-17, 2007. With 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) Voracek was tied for the NHL lead in scoring with Dallas’ Tyler Seguin and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby at the conclusion of last night’s game. Voracek leads the NHL in assists.

3) Giroux also now has five multi-point games this season. He also dominated in the faceoff circle last night, winning 15 of 22 draws.

4) Emery had another good game. While there seems to be a good chance that Steve Mason will finally get back in the net come Saturday night, Emery’s play has been a crucial reason why the Flyers were able to finish October with a 4-4-2 record despite the NHL’s toughest first-month schedule (nine of their first 10 opponents were playoff teams last year) and 0-2-2 start through four matches.

5) Simmonds’ goal was a momentum changer when the Flyers desperately needed it. He has continued to play well despite his recent point drought. He has also found some chemistry in the last few games with Bellemare and Brayden Schenn. It would be nice if the Flyers could get Matt Read (whose offensive confidence seems to be at a low ebb right now) or R.J. Umberger going.

6) Del Zotto, who logged 23:41 of ice time, has settled in very nicely of late, and it is evident that his confidence has started to come back. Luke Schenn quietly turned in a workmanlike evening as well.

7) The Flyers showed yet again that they are rarely ever out of a game, even when trailing. They need to play more often from in front — they’ve yielded the first goal in eight of 10 games — but there is no questioning their character or resiliency.

8) Even the players who had miscues (such as Manning’s coverage on the first goal) or those who simply didn’t have good night (such as Grossmann) kept battling after miscues. Manning settled in fine as the game went along and otherwise gave the Flyers wanted they wanted from his 14:08 of ice time. Grossmann, who somehow was not credited with any blocked shots on this night despite two obvious blocks, registered five credited hits to tie with Luke Schenn for the game high.

On Saturday night, the Flyers complete their two-game road trip to Florida as they open their November schedule. The club will be in Sunrise to take on the Florida Panthers. Thereafter, the Flyers return home for three games next week.

********** FLYERS SIGN COLAIACOVO

Shortly after last night’s game ended, the Flyers officially announced that they had signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo to a contract for the rest of this season. The 31-year-old is a veteran of 401 NHL games over 11 seasons.

At one time, the former Toronto first-round pick (2001) was an effective two-way NHL defenseman with strong puck-moving ability and good mobility. Chronic injuries have taken a big bite out of his effectiveness.

Most recently, Colaiacovo played in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues, where he posted a goal and three assists for four points in 25 games last season. He spent parts of five seasons with the Blues after being acquired along with Alex Steen in exchange for Lee Stempniak. He also spent a part of the 2012-13 season with Detroit, appearing in six games, before re-signing with St. Louis before last season.

Colaiacovo did not appear in training camp with any NHL team this September as he remained unsigned on the unrestricted free agent market. As such, it may be difficult for him to simply jump into game action with the Flyers despite the absences of Braydon Coburn (left foot injury) and Andrew MacDonald (lower body injury) that precipitated his signing.

At some point in the near future, the Flyers will return Shayne Gostisbehere (a healthy scratch) and Brandon Manning to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It remains to be seen if the move is made ahead of the mini road trip’s conclusion tomorrow night in Sunrise, FL. However, it’s a virtual cinch that Gostisbehere will be back with the Phantoms by early next week at the latest.

While highly touted offensive defenseman prospect Gostisbehere is a native of nearby Margate, FL and would no doubt be very excited to appear in a game against the team he grew up rooting for, that cannot be the basis for Craig Berube’s lineup decision or Ron Hextall’s roster move. The more experienced Manning played well enough overall last night — and got a few more minutes of ice time, especially at five-on-five, than Gostisbehere got in his first two NHL games — to deserve to slot as the sixth defenseman for the Panthers game.

********* FLYERS ALUMNI IN WEEKEND ACTION

The Flyers Alumni will be in action tomorrow night in a benefit game at the Oaks Center Ice Hockey Rink (100 Pennco Road) in Oaks, PA, playing against the Blueliners Hockey Club. Game time is 7:30 p.m. EDT. Adult tickets cost $15 with proceeds going to the Montgomery County Hero Fund. Admission is free for children under 12.

Participating Flyers Alumni are likely to include the likes of HockeyBuzz’s Brad Marsh (who is visiting family in the Delaware Valley this weekend) as well as team regulars such as Brian Propp, Todd “Fridge” Fedoruk, Joe Watson, Bob “the Hound” Kelly and Ray Allison. Other potential participants include former farm team fan favorites Frank “the Animal” Bialowas, Mitch Lamoureaux and Pete Zingoni with former Hershey Bears and Washington Capitals netminder Dave Parro in goal.

The purpose of the Montgomery County Hero Fund is to support the families of local policemen, firemen, military personnel, paramedics and other first responders in the event of tragedy. As the organization says in its mission statement, the fund exists to “immediately guarantee that the acts of a Hero will never be forgotten and that we will always rise to the challenge of making sure sacrifice in the line of duty will never be in vain.”

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

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