Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Habs Double Up Flyers, Phantoms, Prospects, Quick Hits

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LEAKY PENALTY KILLING DOOMS FLYERS AGAIN IN 6-3 LOSS IN MONTREAL

Heading into this weekend, the Philadelphia Flyers had a five-night schedule break before playing back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens. It appears that the Flyers penalty kill sailed through the Bermuda Triangle during the break, because it has disappeared without a trace.

For the second straight night, the Flyers got strafed for three opposition power play goals.

On Friday, it doomed Philadelphia to a 4-3 regulation loss to a Columbus team that had lost nine games in a row heading into the match. Last night, poor penalty killing by Philadelphia was the springboard to Montreal jumping out to a 3-0 lead and going to down the Flyers by a 6-3 count en route to the Canadiens winning their fifth game in a row.

The most concerning aspect of the Flyers’ penalty killing issues has been just how easy they’ve made it in the last two games for opponents to move the puck at will up high and get traffic to the net with impunity. There’s been no puck pressure. Passing lanes are as wide as airplane runways. Clearing opportunities are turned over to opposition sticks or flubbed entirely. Shots from the points and circles aren’t getting blocked. Defensemen are weakly fronting forwards near the net and losing battles to loose pucks around the net. The Flyers goaltenders haven’t been able to hang onto rebounds for stoppages.

In short, it’s been an utter mess.

For the last several seasons, the quartet of Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann have been key contributors to a penalty kill that annually ranks near the top of the NHL. So it’s not a personnel issue per se, even though these players have been out for most of the six power play goals the team has yielded in the last two games.

Luke Schenn’s recent absence has nothing to do with what happened the last two games. Penalty killing is truly about what the entire unit is doing (or not doing) and rarely about one player being unavailable. People often talk about “power play rhythm”. Penalty killing is a rhythm, too, in the way the box or triangle has to be in sync to be successful.

Over the last two games, the Flyers penalty killing has been so passive — going back to Columbus’ first power play goal on Friday, straight on through last night — that even an ECHL team’s power play would likely find success against them. There is simply too much time and space being yielded and shots get through with far too much regularity.

For the season, the Flyers were fine on the penalty kill at home until Friday’s debacle. They’ve struggled horribly on the road, however, and Friday night’s failures seemed to contribute to a further downward spiral in Montreal last night.

With an unacceptably low 71.2 percent success rate, the Flyers wake up this morning with the NHL’s 29th-ranked penalty kill out of 30 teams. The only reason Philly is even ahead of New Jersey (70 percent) is that the Flyers 86.2 percent (25-for-29) success rate at home still ranks in the top one-third of the League even after Friday night’s letdowns against the Blue Jackets. On the road, the Flyers have a tragicomic 52.2 “success” rate — more accurately, a 47.8 failure rate. Even the woeful Buffalo Sabres have killed off 68.4 percent of their road penalties.

In last night’s game, Montreal got power play goals from P.A. Parenteau, David Deharnais and P.K. Subban. Parenteau added an early third-period even strength goal that restored a two-goal lead (4-2) to the Habs after the Flyers shaved a three-goal deficit down to one in the second period. After Philly drew back within a goal yet again, Dale Weise added a pair of late goals to create the final 6-3 margin.

Carey Price did not have to be spectacular for the Canadiens in this game. He allowed nothing soft, which was good enough to outplay Philadelphia counterpart Ray Emery. Price stopped 26 of 29 shots.

Emery, who had not played since Oct. 30, was not sharp in this game. He was unable to freeze some key pucks for stoppages. In the third period, Weise goal was a soft one at a crucial juncture when the Flyers had been carrying the play as they pressed for a tying goal. Earlier in the game, Emery did come up with one momentum save, stopping a semi-breakaway moments after the Flyers failed on a 5-on-3 power play.

The Flyers power play went 1-for-5 against Montreal but was generally poor. The club did not generate enough shots and had trouble getting the ones they attempted on net — Montreal blocked 23 shots to just 11 for Philly, plus the Flyers missed the net 15 times to 10 for the Habs.

Vincent Lecavalier had an especially miserable night in that department. The veteran forward, whose biggest strength at this stage of his career is supposed to be his heavy and accurate shot from a stationary position, attempted 12 shots last night. Only one actually made it on net, with five getting blocked and six being hammered wide of the net.

For Philadelphia, there were really only a couple of positives to take away from the game.

Craig Berube made some line changes in the second period, putting Brayden Schenn (who brought a four-game point streak into the game) on the left wing of the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Wayne Simmonds, who has not looked comfortable in playing his off-wing for the first time in his career, was moved down.

The revised top line clicked, as Schenn finished off a pair of goals that Voracek had a direct hand in setting up. Giroux got the primary assist on the second tally, and the Flyers trimmed their 3-0 deficit to 3-2.

Voracek, who took over the NHL scoring lead (26 points), extended his consecutive game point streak to a career-best 10 games. In that span, he has racked up a staggering 19 points (five goals, 14 assists). He now has compiled nine multi-point games this season and has recorded at least one point in 15 of the 16 games the Flyers have played.

In extending his point streak to five games, Schenn now has three goals and seven points over that span. Giroux’s five-game point streak has seen the Flyers captain compile eight points (three goals, five assists).

Berube now has a tough decision to make: Schenn had been playing well on a line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Despite the struggles of the other two players to put pucks in the net, the line had been an effective unit at five-on-five for the balance of their previous four games. Putting Schenn on the top line might truly make the Flyers into a one-line team right now.

At 5:38 of the third period, Read scored just his second goal of a season, as he tallied a power play goal to bring Philly back within 4-3 after Parenteau’s early third period goal put the Flyers in a two-goal hole again. The play was somewhat reminiscent of a goal Grossmann scored in Pittsburgh a couple seasons ago, with a pile of bodies of players from both teams sprawled on the ice in and around the crease and the puck uncovered. The veritable last player standing, Read, finally claimed the loose puck and had half a net open to score.

It remains to be seen if Read will draw some confidence from his goal last night. What is certain is that the Flyers need to get at least one or two players among Read, Couturier, Simmonds, Lecavalier or R.J. Umberger contributing to the offense with any sort of regularity again.

As great as Voracek and Giroux have been and as well as Brayden Schenn has played the last two weeks, the Flyers need to get other players going offensively. In the meantime, the club has to stop the bleeding on the penalty kill and hemorrhaging so many goals against in general.

The Flyers now have a three-night break before heading into Madison Square Garden for a nationally televised clash with the New York Rangers on Wednesday. The following night will be Eric Lindros and John LeClair’s induction into the team Hall of Fame prior to a home game against the Minnesota Wild. The club will have plenty to work on in practice and to look at in video sessions before then.

************* PHANTOMS EDGE MARLIES, 3-2

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms improved their record to 6-6-1 on the season as they downed the Toronto Marlies, 3-2, at the PPL Center on Saturday night. Scott Laughton led the way with a goal and an assist, while Nick Cousins and Brandon Manning (game-winning power play goal in the third period) also chipped in one goal apiece.

Veteran goaltender Rob Zepp improved his record to 6-3-1 on the season, making 23 saves on 25 shots. Defenseman Robert Hägg made a late game-saving block to protect a gaping net with Toronto pressing on a 6-on-5 in the final minute of play.

A sellout crowd of 8,664 attended the game in Allentown. The Phantoms will host Hershey on Wednesday, Worcester on Friday and St. John’s on Saturday.

************* QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 16TH

* QMJHL: Flyers 2014 second-round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel (knee injury) was not in the lineup for Val-d’Or yesterday in a 7-4 victory over Shawinigan. Aube-Kubel was injured in a knee-to-knee collision with Quebec Remparts forward Adam Erne in a game on Nov. 9. There is no official word on how long Aube-Kubel will miss.

* Starting this week, I will be writing for the Flyers Alumni official website in addition to my work with HockeyBuzz. The daily Today in Flyers History and Alumni Birthday section I’ve been doing on my Flyers blogs will migrate over to the Alumni site and I will be writing some exclusive features for the Alumni as well as some shared content for both sites. Coming up this week, we will have a special story on the newest inductees into the Flyers Hall of Fame and a variety of other Alumni items of interest.

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