Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Conclude So-So Road Trip, Flyers Alumni

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FLYERS CONCLUDE SO-SO ROAD TRIP WITH 3-2 OT LOSS IN COLUMBUS

For the second time in their now-completed four-game road trip, the Philadelphia Flyers rallied for a goal in the final minute of regulation to force overtime and salvage a point from a game. Last night in Columbus, Brayden Schenn’s second goal of the night came with 56 seconds left in the third period to forge a 2-2 tie.

Columbus went on to win in overtime on a line rush goal by defenseman Kevin Connauton. The Blue Jackets remained undefeated in four December games, while the Flyers dropped to 1-1-2 on their road trip.

Philadelphia claimed four of a possible eight points on their road trip. Unfortunately, given the hole the team dug for itself in November, it was more of a glass half-empty outcome.

Even though the Blue Jackets have been winning of late, the team is still riddled with injuries and hemorrhages opposition shots. Sergei Bobrovsky had to be at the pinnacle of his game for the team to win its first three games in December.

That really was not the case last night. There were long stretches of the game where the Flyers generated very little offensively. Philly finished with a mere 21 shots for the game.

The Flyers best offensive push came late in the game with Steve Mason pulled for an extra attacker late in the game. Philadelphia got the Blue Jackets hemmed in their own zone and a fatigued Brandon Dubinsky took an icing. Finally, at 19:04, Jakub Voracek put a shot at the net from the right point. Brayden Schenn deflected the puck through Bobrovsky’s pads and over the goal line.

Veteran referee Dave Jackson, who was approaching the net and should have had a decent look at the play as the puck trickled through Bobrovsky into the net, made no call. Apparently, he was about to blow the whistle for losing sight of the puck in Bobrovsky’s pads but then saw the puck in the net. Jackson put his hands up — not a washout signal, not pointing at the net — and sent it the Situation Room in Toronto for review.

Jackson’s query to the replay officials was whether Schenn’s deflection of Voracek’s shot caused the puck to go cleanly into the net before the referee lost sight of the puck. It was a short review: good goal.

In overtime, the Flyers pressed offensively but then turned over the puck. On a 2-on-1 counterattack with Ryan Johansen and Connauton working against Andrew MacDonald, Mason was not quite able to get over in time to make what would have been a 10-bell save on Connauton had the goalie been able to do it.

Connauton is an offensive-minded but defensively suspect defenseman whom the Blue Jackets recently claimed off waivers from the Dallas Stars (the bottom-ranked defensive team in the NHL) because of all the injuries on their roster. Two things he does possess are good mobility and a quick shot. He made no mistake when he received the feed from Connnauton.

Mason, playing in his first road game in Columbus since being traded to the Flyers at the 2013 trade deadline, had a tough-luck game in goal. He played better than his .875 save percentage for the night (21 saves on 24 shots) would suggest.

In regulation, Boone Jenner and ex-Flyer Scott Hartnell tallied power play goals to give the Blue Jackets leads of 1-0 and 2-1. It was hard to fault Mason at all on either goal.

Jenner’s power play goal at 12:34 of the first period was simply a bit of self-made good luck. From near the post to Mason’s left, Jenner attempted a cross-ice pass. As Mason started to move to his right, Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn blocked the attempted pass. Unfortunately, the puck went right back to Jenner, who quickly stashed the puck inside the near-side post.

Hartnell’s goal at 10:39 of the second period was the result of hard work by Columbus and the Philadelphia penalty killers’ continued inability to clear the zone or to at least force a low-percentage shot which Mason could hold onto for a stoppage of play.

With tired penalty killers still on the ice, a loose puck scramble ensued around the net. As he attempted to clear the porch, Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann pushed Nick Foligno, who was parked inside the crease. The Columbus forward bumped into Mason, who was partially inside and partially outside of the right side of the crease.

In desperation, Grossmann attempted to play goalie, going down on his knees in the crease. Hartnell’s backhanded shot found its way into the net. The goal snapped an 11-game drought for Hartnell.

Mason argued with the officials that the goal should be disallowed for interference by Foligno — even if no penalty was called — as he did not have a reasonable chance to make a save. He may have had a point.

It was a borderline call that could have gone either way. Actually, the Flyers had a somewhat similar would-be goal disallowed last season when it was ruled that Hartnell (then still a Flyer) did not make a sufficient attempt to avoid contact after a much more forceful push from a defenseman — and Hartnell was outside the crease when he got push, unlike Foligno who was already skating though the crease.

In this instance, the goal stood.

Ultimately, this was a collective failure by the Flyers’ penalty killers — including forwards Sean Couturier and Matt Read as well as defensemen Grossmann and Nick Schultz — for not doing a better job of gaining possession of the puck and clearing the zone. The final moments leading up to Hartnell’s goal were just the chaos that is part of hockey and not really attributable to one player being to blame. This was a failure of the entire group, and Mason never had a reasonable chance to bail out the team.

For much of the game, the Flyers generated precious little in the way of legitimate pressure on the forecheck. As is far too often the case, they got stationary and could neither carry in the puck nor put pucks behind the defensemen and forecheck with speed.

However, Schenn’s first goal was a beauty. The Flyers’ first power play of the game went nowhere in a hurry. The second did not start out well, either, until one perfectly executed rush. Mark Streit started the rush with a lead pass on the tape to Claude Giroux, who attacked with speed in the Columbus end.

Finding a wide-open Schenn in the left slot, Giroux made a picturesque pass into perfect sniping position. Schenn found the mark. With his two goals on the night, Schenn now has nine on the season.

The Flyers dressed the same lineup in this game as they did in their 2-1 win in Los Angeles. Vincent Lecavalier was a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game, while Luke Schenn sat out for a second straight game along with oft-scratched eighth defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo.

The Flyers will hold an optional practice at noon on Wednesday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ. Tomorrow night, Philly starts a four-game homestand by playing host to old friend Jaromir Jagr, longtime Flyer nemesis Patrik Elias and the rest of the New Jersey Devils.

*************** FLYERS ALUMNI NEWS FROM FlyersAlumni.org

* Today in Flyers History: Mark Howe dominates a 7-4 win at the Spectrum against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 10, 1985. The Hall of Fame defenseman plays 32 minutes while racking up three power play points (two goals, one assist) and a plus-three at even strength. For more notable Flyers’ games and Alumni birthdays on this date, click here.

* On Dec. 19, 2014, members of the Flyers Alumni family will travel to St. John’s Hospice (1221 Race St. in Philadelphia) to serve lunch to the homeless men who turn to the charitable institution. The following day, the Alumni will work together with Cityteam to deliver holiday gifts to less fortunate families in the Delaware Valley. For more information on these programs, click here.

* The first installment of the new monthly Flyers Alumni: Then and Now feature takes an in-depth look at the career and post-hockey life of Mikael Renberg.

* On January 17, 2015, the Flyers Alumni team will participate in the Center for Autism 3rd Annual Winter Classic benefit game in Aston, PA. Please come out to the Ice Works Skating Complex to help support this worthy cause. Related events include a silent auction and postgame meet-and-greet and autograph session with Flyers Alumni player.

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