FLYERS BLOW LEAD, SALVAGE A POINT IN SHOOTOUT LOSS IN ANAHEIM
In a wild game marked by sloppy play, strange bounces and counter-attacking offense from both sides, the Philadelphia Flyers were simultaneously fortunate not to lose in regulation and unlucky not to get two points from Wednesday night’s game in Anaheim. Ultimately, the Ducks prevailed via shootout, 5-4.
Wayne Simmonds tallied his ninth and 10th goals of the season. Philadelphia also got regulation goals from Michael Raffl and R.J. Umberger, plus one assist apiece from the likes of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Mark Streit.
Couturier later notched the Flyers lone goal in three shootout rounds, sandwiched between unsuccessful attempts by Voracek and Giroux (the final shooter in the skills competition).
Steve Mason followed a tremendous performance in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose with a so-so outing in Anaheim. While he did not yield anything that was outright awful, he was a shade off his angle or late to react to a few of Anaheim’s goals. He finished with 29 saves on 33 shots. In the shootout, he was beaten twice in two attempts.
For the most part, goaltending ended up being a non-factor in the regulation and overtme portions of the game.
Winning goaltender Frederik Andersen played more or less on par with Mason. The Dane finished with 31 saves on 35 shots. His bet stops came in stoning Matt Read on a breakaway and an excellent overtime glove stop to deny Simmonds’ bid for a hat trick. In the shootout, he stopped two of three goals.
For Anaheim, burgeoning young defenseman Sami Vatanen had a stellar game even apart from a late second period goal that tied the game at 3-3. Anaheim got odd-man rush counterattack goals by Cam Fowler and Ryan Getzlaf earlier in the second period.
The three-on-one rush on the Getzlaf goal was partially caused by one of worst — but very common — plays in hockey. Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann stepped up from the left side of the blueline to deliver a hit along the wall. He made the hit on Corey Perry but Perry chipped the puck ahead to Hampus Lindholm. Getzlaf finished it with left circle goal high the short side on Mason.
In the third period, former Flyers farmhand Patrick Maroon scored a power play goal to put Anaheim ahead 4-3 with just 5:02 remaining on clock. The goal was just his second of the season. Earlier in the game, Maroon assisted on the Vatanen goal as Vatanen took a pass from Maroon behind the net and stuffed inside the near-side post before Mason could get over to seal it off
In the shootout, both Jakub Silfverberg and Corey Perry converted their attempts on Mason. The Silfverberg goal was stoppable, as Mason got a piece but not enough of the puck and it trickled into the net. Perry’s goal came as he faked a move and then beat Mason with a lightning quick shot release.
The positives for the Flyers: Simmonds broke free from his offensive doldrums to score two goals. The first one gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead off a counter-rush. The latter goal tied the game at 4-4 with just 2.6 seconds left in the third period (the clock read 1.8 seconds but was set back on the ensuing faceoff. Simmonds refused to be denied on the second goal, getting himself to the net and scoring a second-effort rebound goal off an initial shot by Scott Laughton.
The Flyers also got some scoring again from someone other than Voracek, Giroux, Simmonds or Brayden Schenn (who is now six games removed from his last goal but who has three assists in the last three games).
Raffl opened the scoring in the second period with a truly outstanding goal; his 7th of the season and first goal and point since returning to the lineup five games ago from a lower body injury sustained on Nov. 4.
Demonstrating his best possible two-way play, Raffl made a good play on the backcheck to break up an Anaheim rush and then joined the counterattack to convert a pass from Giroux (21st assist of the season). Voracek earned the secondary helper (24th assist) to tie Sidney Crosby for the NHL point-scoring lead.
Later in the second period, Umberger finally tallied his second goal of the season and first power play goal. It was about as ugly as a goal can get but it was huge both for the team and for his deflated confidence. The key to the play: Umberger got himself to the net and stayed with the puck. An initial shot by Nick Schultz glanced off Umberger, who corralled the puck and got just enough of it from the doorstep to stash into the half-open net.
For 20 scoreless minutes, the game looked like an emerging defensive duel as both teams generated just four shots apiece in the first period. Thereafter, things got crazy.
The Flyers and Ducks traded off three goals apiece in the second period, as Philly built leads of 1-0 and 3-1. Each time Anaheim came back to tie the game en route to a 19-10 shot edge in the middle frame.
In the third period, Anaheim scored the Maroon power play goal with 5:02 remaining in regulation to seize its first lead of the game. Just as it looked like the Flyers were doomed to another regulation loss one night after losing at least one point on a goal by San Jose’s Matt Nieto in the waning seconds of the game, Simmonds scored a near buzzer beater to give his team one point.
Despite the point, there really wasn’t much for the Flyers to celebrate except the late show of resiliency. The team is now winless in its last six games (0-4-2) and has posted just one win
in the last 11 matches (1-8-2). The club is 2-9-2 on the road this season and winless in each of its last nine shootouts including all four played this season.
Any way you slice, the baby step of getting one point last night from a game where the club once held a multi-goal lead is no cause for celebration. The Flyers remain in a deep hole and still have yet to put away the shovels to build ladders instead.
The Flyers’ three-game trip to California ends on Saturday night. They will travel to Tinseltown to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. The Flyers then make a Dec. 9 stop in Columbus before returning home for three games.
******* MURRAY CHALLENGES HÄGG
In his first full season of North American pro hockey, 19-year-old Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hägg has had an uneven start through the first 19 games.
Offensively, he has shown an ability to fire shots on net quickly and accurately while making some good passes. No one would quibble with his 10 points (two goals, eight assists) to date. Defensively, he has made some good plays and some pretty bad ones.
That is all normal for a rookie defenseman. However, what the Flyers organization wants to see from Hägg is to do a consistently better job at framing his mental approach to the game. He walks the fine line between cool, calm and collected and too casual and not competitive enough. A similar assessment was made by one of his coaches last season in Modo.
The consensus view on Hägg is that he has the physical tools to develop into a two-way impact defenseman but needs to mentally elevate the bar much higher for himself. It’s not that he does not work hard but he needs to be more of a self-motivated and focused competitor because those things really cannot be taught. I wrote in-depth about this in my Sept. 15 blog.
Until recently, most discussions about the areas where Hägg needs to get better came in off-the-record conversations with people in and around the organization. After the team’s 4-3 home win over Norfolk at the PPL Center, Phantoms head coach Terry Murray gave a rather blunt assessment of Hägg’s development thus far this season to a postgame query by Center Ice Magazine’s Anthony Mingioni.
“He has gone backwards a little bit,” said Murray, comparing Hägg’s play in 10 late-season games with the Phantoms at the end of 2013-14 season to his play to date in the first quarter of the 2014-15 campaign.
Murray, who is not one to sugar-coat his assessments and cares deeply about wanting to see players put themselves in position to succeed for the long haul in pro hockey went on give a lengthy tough love critique of the teenage blueliner.
The coach said that last season he saw intensity and smart plays from Hägg in his 10 games with the Phantoms. This season, he has been much more casual and not in a good way.
At times, Hägg’s focus seems to drift and, at other times, he tries to overthink plays. Murray said Hägg needs to make simple and quicker “north plays” to get the puck up the ice. When it comes to making reads, former defenseman Murray said the youngster needs to learn to “let the forward the make the mistake.”
Hägg is blessed both with good size and decent mobility but does not use either asset with enough consistency yet. Murray said, in the big picture, Hägg needs to learn pacing and about finding ways to create consistently reproducible results over an 82-game season.
Right now, the youngster appears not to be pushing himself hard enough to consistently play the way Murray and the organization believe he can. It’s not physical mistakes they worry about, which happen to every defensemen but especially to young defensemen going through the learning curve. It’s the competitive drive and focus the team wants to see.
Murray did say that Hägg has gotten better of late in terms of digging a little deeper in his game but that he has to sustain and improve on it.
Case in point: A few weeks ago after Hägg took an undisciplined retaliatory slashing penalty at a terrible time, I heard there were apparently some people in the organization who were at least glad that Hägg showed a bit of fire even if it was misplaced in that situation. No one wants to bad penalties from him or anyone else but they do want to see the competitive juices flowing in productive ways while navigating the line between showing poise and patience and being mentally passive in his approach to the game.
Now that the Phantoms head coach has publicly put out a challenge to the rookie player, it will be interesting to see how Hägg responds in the weeks to come. It’s not just about stats and not about mistakes (even costly ones). It’s all about the player’s approach to his own development.