Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Avenge Themselves Vs. Panthers

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FLYERS AVENGE THEMSELVES AGAINST FLORIDA WITH 4-1 WIN

Determined not to fall into the same rut that led to a 2-1 road loss last Saturday against an injury-depleted Florida Panthers team, the Philadelphia Flyers got off to a quick start and never looked back in a 4-1 win over Florida at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. With the win, the Flyers improved their overall record to 6-5-2 and home mark to 4-1-2.

A pair of early goals generated by Brayden Schenn (two assists) sparked the Flyers to a quick 2-0 lead on a deflection goal by Sean Couturier and a pinch-in by Michael Del Zotto. The Flyers extended the lead to 3-0 early in the second period on a Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Thirty-nine seconds after Nick Bjugstad’s power play rebound goal cut the Flyers’ lead to 3-1, Jakub Voracek finished off a two-on-one rush off a feed from Claude Giroux to restore the three-goal cushion.

Steve Mason played very well in net once again, making 34 saves on 35 shots to earn the win. Although most of the shots he saw were kept to the outside — despite the high volume — Mason had to come up with with several momentum saves and turn aside a few testers from in close.

Over the last two games, the Flyers have scored eight goals at even strength while allowing only one. With both ends of special teams in a bit of a funk recently, the team’s recently improved play on both sides of the puck at even strength has been of vital importance.

Voracek now has at least one point in 12 of the 13 games the Flyers have played this season, and seven games in a row. He is now tied with Sidney Crosby for the NHL’s overall point scoring lead. Giroux has recorded at least one point in 10 of 13 games.

The duo had a new linemate from early in the second period onward. After Chris VandeVelde played the first period on the unit’s left wing in the absence of the injured Michael Raffl, Wayne Simmonds moved onto the line for the rest of the game.

After the first period, Flyers head coach Craig Berube asked Simmonds if he wanted to try to move to his off wing and play with the top line. The reason for the switch, according to both Berube and VandeVelde, was not that the coach was unhappy with how the forward looked early in the game. Rather, Berube did not feel that Vincent Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger have done a sufficient job of getting the puck to Simmonds.

Berube said he wanted to take a look and see what Simmonds — who has continued to play well but only has one goal and two points in his last nine games after opening the season with five goals and seven points in the first four — could do with skilled playmakers Giroux and Voracek.

In the meantime, Brayden Schenn has points in five of his last six games (2G, 4A). Over that span, he has recorded a pair of game-winning goals and seems to be gelling with Couturier and Matt Read now that they’ve played a few games together.

On the Flyers first goal, scored at 3:53 of the first period, Schenn made an excellent forechecking play to ride Brian Campbell off the puck. Read then made a nice play of his own to outwork Jussi Jokinen on left half boards and pass the puck to Schenn. With Couturier in front of the net, the shutdown center deftly redirected Schenn’s low shot past Roberto Luongo (26 saves on 30 shots) to forge a 1-0 lead.

The same line struck again at 6:38. Schenn made a strong inside cut from the lower circle and found a pinching Del Zotto on a delayed penalty against Florida. With referee Dean Morton unwittingly providing a screen, Del Zotto skated to a wide angle and fired the puck home to the long side over an out-of-position Luongo. Couturier got the secondary assist. The goal was Del Zotto’s first as a Flyer.

At 2:50 of the second period, Bellemare hustled to a loose puck between the circles and fired it high over Luongo. A sandwich check by Zac Rinaldo and Bellemare on Dmitry Kulikov created a turnover as the Florida defenseman put the puck around the wall. Initially credited as an unassisted goal, a helper was later credited to defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who chipped the puck over the middle as Bellemare made a beeline out of the corner to the unguarded scoring area.

Unofficially, Bellemare’s goals in the Edmonton game and this match marked the first time a skater on the Flyers’ fourth line has tallied even strength goals in back-to-back games since Couturier did it as a rookie in January 2012 amid what grew to a five-game goal scoring streak.

The Flyers’ run of perfection (19-for-19) on the penalty kill at home ice came to an end at 11:50 of the middle stanza. An unguarded Bjugstad converted the rebound of an in-close shot by Jimmy Hayes from the other side of the net. On the play, Umberger failed to skate hard enough on the backcheck and Bjugstad skated in untouched to claim the loose puck and deposit it the net.

Thirty-nine seconds later, the Flyers had their three-goal back again. All five Flyers players on the ice touched the puck in the sequence. It started out with Nicklas Grossmann in deep partially over-skating but playing the puck under pressure a few feet over to Giroux. The captain sent the puck around the wall from behind the Flyers net and Simmonds pulling the puck off the wall on his backhand over to Mark Streit. The Swiss defenseman then sprung Giroux and Voracek on a 2-on-1 rush with a pass onto Giroux’s tape. Approaching the net, Giroux fed the puck to Voracek in perfect shooting position. Voracek made no mistake burying the shot.

Mason and company protected the 4-1 lead through a third period that turned rather chippy at times. Early in the period, Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson gave a gratuitous push to Couturier as the Flyers center slid along the ice. Couturier crashed awkwardly into the end boards, feet first. He was down for a lengthy period of time but eventually skated off and remained in the game.

A few minutes later, Mason and Tomas Kopecky traded slashes behind the Flyers’ net. Both players received minors. In the waning minutes of the game, Lecavalier and Vincent Trocheck received coincidental cross-checking minors.

Del Zotto and Voracek were among the three-star selections for the second straight game. On Tuesday night, Del Zotto took third-star honors with Voracek claiming the first-star nod. Tonight, Voracek was third and Del Zotto second. Couturier was selected as tonight’s first star by CSN Philly’s Chris Therien. Mason grabbed second-star kudos on Tuesday.

The Flyers will hold an optional skate tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ. On Saturday, the club hosts the Colorado Avalanche. Thereafter, the Flyers have a five-night schedule hiatus before returning to game action.

********** POST-GAME NOTES AND QUOTES

* Late in the second period, Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo lost his stick and had to retreat to his net without it as the Flyers applied pressure in the offensive zone. This is hardly unusual. What followed next was anything but ordinary. With play still going on, referee Dean Morton deliberately kicked — not just nudged it slightly with his foot, but sent it several feet with purpose — the goaltender’s stick back to him.

* Del Zotto’s description of his goal: “It’s been something I’ve been working on as far as activating back door. I’m trying to get in on the rush and get a few looks and have them lose coverage. Schenner made a perfect pass and I had an open net and it worked out well.”

* Del Zotto on the greatly increased ice time he’s been getting and the perception that he is exclusively an offensive defenseman: “I think this is a good opportunity to show that I can play on both ends of the ice. I’ve never been a shutdown guy or a defense guy, as a specialist, but it’s a good opportunity for me. I’m trying to make the most out of it.”

* Mason on the team’s defensive improvements: “Guys are doing a great job. We’re doing a great job of blocking shots. Especially tonight. We’re doing a great job of clearing the front of the net. You know tonight in the first period they were getting big bodies up front but the second and third periods were clearing lanes and making my job a lot easier. Anytime you can see the puck with shots from the point you can pretty much usually control your rebounds. And I think that makes things easier for the team as well. The last couple of games have definitely been a lot cleaner. And the results are there for it.”

* Simmonds on the prospect of continuing to play on a line with Giroux and Voracek: “Hopefully I’ll get the chance to do it. I don’t have to do much—go in the corner and dig pucks out. Those guys will do what they do. Hopefully I’ll get the chance, but it’s the coaches decision whatever they decide to do and I’m more than willing.”

* Simmonds on his brief previous time on a line with Voracek: “Me and Jakey played together our first year for probably about five games and he was on the left and voiced his displeasure for being put on the left side, so I knew there was no chance that I was getting that right side.”

* Simmonds on the team’s recent surge in five-on-five play: “It feels great. That is something we have been working on to get better five-on-five. The past few years our power plays have been great and the penalty kills have been great, so the five on five has been our big focus. Obviously this year the power play and penalty kill is not doing so hot right now. But five-on-five play is definitely improving.”

* Voracek on five-on-five play: “As a team, we gave up a lot of shots but most of the shots were outside and when we let them in Mason was very strong, I think that’s how we went all season long. We had our ups and downs in the beginning of the season which is normal but I am very happy the way we are playing defense lately.”

* Chris VandeVelde on starting the game on the top line and then being switched to the Vincent Lecavalier line in the second period: “I think we were kind of stagnant there, the whole team was for a little bit and he just came to me and said ‘nothing about your play just kind of switching it up’ and obviously I’m fine with that. I played with Vinny (Lecavalier) and Umberger the rest of the game and I thought we had some good shifts as well. Like I said, something to build on, and we had a good game.”

* Brayden Schenn’s assessment of his first three games playing with Sean Couturier and Matt Read: “Pretty good. it’s only been three games so far, but I think all three of us like I said the other day we can’t rely on Jake (Voracek) and Giroux to score us goals every night. Obviously we’d like them to but in this league it’s not going to happen every night, so you’re going to need some secondary scoring and I think the three of us have some good chemistry as long as we play good defense the offensive chances will come.”

* Couturier on the team getting off to a quick start against the Panthers after getting off to a very slow start when the teams met in Sunrise last Saturday: “We wanted to be an aggressive team for sixty minutes. I mean from the start of the first few games of the year we weren’t really as hard in the first period as the last few minutes of the game. Tonight we did a good job of coming our strong, and we just have to build on that.”

* Craig Berube on putting Simmonds on the top line and the prospects of keeping the trio together for awhile: “I think Simmer needs some practice time on the left side, which will help. It could be a real lethal combination to be honest with you. You got a little bit of everything there. You got one of the best players in the league at the net, getting to the net, scoring around the net. Two elite passers and playmakers. Could be good; we’ll see.”

* Berube on the play of the fourth line: “I like the way they’re skating right now. I thought Zac Rinaldo, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Jason Akeson skated really well tonight. Zac’s doing a really great job of getting on top of people, taking the body, and making plays with the puck.”

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

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