Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers-Avs Wrap, WJC, Phantoms, Alumni and More

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FLYERS CLOSE OUT 2014 WITH 4-3 OT LOSS IN DENVER

The Philadelphia Flyers remained winless in three tries since the Christmas break and fell to 3-2-1 on their current eight-game road trip as they dropped a 4-3 overtime decision on New Year’s Eve to the Colorado Avalanche.

Barring a 180-degree turnaround over the remainder of the season, herein lies the gap between the Flyers and the teams that are likely to make it to postseason play this season: When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, the Flyers have a 2-15-6 record.

That includes just one win apiece when scoring three (1-3-3) or two (1-3-1) goals.

Plain and simple, the Flyers have consistently shown an inability to win games this season in games where they don’t score a high volume of goals. Playoff-worthy teams know how to win 2-1 or 3-2 games and even pick off a few 1-0 wins. Between leaky penalty killing and a tendency toward ill-timed lulls in winnable games, the Flyers find themselves on the wrong side of the ledger far too often.

In Wednesday night’s game, the Flyers held leads of 1-0 and 3-2 and could neither build on nor protect either one. The team did not play badly on the whole — two of the Avs’ three regulation goals were self-made good luck on deflections off Flyers’ players — but these are the sorts of games that good teams usually win and mediocre teams often talk afterwards about how they played well enough to deserve a better fate.

The Flyers usually win when they score four or more goals (12-1-1 record) but so does virtually every team in the NHL. To their credit, the Flyers do it with relative frequency by today’s NHL standards. Fourteen times in 37 games is decent and 21 games of 37 with three or more goals is enough offense for a better two-way team to put itself in playoff position as of New Year’s Day.

In Denver, Jakub Voracek snapped a two-game pointless stretch with a mid-first period power play goal to forge a 1-0 lead. The goal, which Voracek buried from his right-side wheelhouse after a nice pass from Brayden Schenn, snapped an 0-for-15 stretch on the power play over the previous six games.

Quite frankly, the more disturbing number was NOT the zero conversions in that stretch but the pathetically low number of power plays the Flyers had been generating for themselves. That’s barely more than two per game, which is simply not good enough.

The power play — at least the top unit — is the least of the Flyers’ concerns this season. Don’t get hung up on the 0-for number that got a lot of play elsewhere. Power play failure was a factor in the Flyers’ Dec. 27 loss in Nashville, coupled with the bigger ongoing problems on the penalty kill. Otherwise, the power play “slump” was barely noticeable. The Flyers simply weren’t ON the power play enough of late to get into much of a rhythm.

The Flyers’ 1-0 lead held until midway through the second period when former Flyers defenseman Nate Guenin and rookie Borna Rendulic scored goals that deflected past Steve Mason (29 saves on 33 shots) off Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Brayden Schenn respectively.

At 2:52 of the third period, Vincent Lecavalier tied the game at 2-2. The veteran forward, who has four goals in the last six games, drilled home a one-timer from the right point with Bellemare providing a screen in front of Semyon Varlamov (26 saves on 29 shots).

For the Flyers, the high point of the game came at the 10:00 mark of the third period. With the Flyers on their fifth power play of the game, Claude Giroux scored one of the most spectacular individual-effort goals of the season.

On the sequence, Flyers defenseman Mark Streit left the puck for the team captain. Giroux carried the mail into the Colorado end. He split defensemen Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson, and then beat Varlamov one-on-one on the forehand to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.

Unfortunately, the Flyers’ inability to kill penalties of their own came back to bite the team in yet another winnable game. With Braydon Coburn in the penalty box for tripping Alex Tanguay, the Avalanche struck on their fourth and final power play of the game.

On the sequence, veteran Jarome Iginla buried a left-side shot off a feed from Nick Holden. Iginla double-clutched a bit on the shot and the resulting shot beat Mason to the short side. Of the four goals that Mason yielded in the game, Iginla’s power play goal at 12:48 of the third period stands out as the one the Flyers’ goalie could have — and should have — stopped.

The Flyers outshot the Avs, 10-8, in the first period and then got outshot by a 21-16 margin (11-8 and 10-8) over the final 40 minutes. The game moved to overtime, with Colorado getting four shots to three for Philly.

The fourth shot for Colorado was the charm. With 20 seconds left in the hockey game and the dreaded skills competition (AKA shootout) looming, the Flyers’ defensive coverage broke down as Sean Couturier, Andrew MacDonald and Bellemare got beaten on a sequence that ended with Ryan O’Reilly pumping home the game-winning goal from prime shooting range at the bottom of the right circle. O’Reilly converted a feed from Tyson Barrie to end the game.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto returned to the Flyers’ lineup in this game, after sitting out as a healthy scratch in nine straight games and 11 of the Flyers’ previous 13 matches. On his first shift of the game, Del Zotto got injured. Former Flyers forward Danny Briere’s skate blade grazed Del Zotto’s neck leaving a scary-looking but thankfully superficial cut. Del Zotto later returned to the game and skated 17 shifts with 11:36 of overall ice time.

With Del Zotto back in the lineup, Luke Schenn sat out as a healthy scratch.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube made one other change to his lineup. Matt Read started the game on the top line left wing, with Michael Raffl moving to Couturier’s line.

The Flyers’ road trip continues on Friday night with a game in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. The trip concludes on Saturday with a tilt in Newark against the New Jersey Devils.

*********** FLYERS PROSPECT WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP UPDATES

All three Flyers’ prospects at the 2014-15 World Junior Championships were in preliminary-round action on Wednesday. There are no games scheduled for New Year’s Day. Single elimination medal-round play gets underway on Friday.

* Flyers 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom capped off a tremendous preliminary round for undefeated (4-0-0) Sweden with a natural hat trick in the Junior Crowns’ 5-1 rout of Switzerland on Wednesday. Lindblom’s goals were power forward goals — going to the net to look for rebounds and/or deflection opportunities or the slot for one-timers — with two coming on the power play. Through the first four games, Lindblom’s seven points (three goals, four assists) ties him for second in tournament scoring with five other players. Additionally, Lindblom has played a strong two-way game throughout the tourney to date. Not surprisingly, he was named Sweden’s Player of the Game in the match against the Swiss. Lindblom had six shots on goal.

* Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Robert Hägg played his best game of what has thus far been a so-so tournament for him. Against the Swiss, Hägg assisted on Lindblom’s second goal to earn his first point of the tourney, and was plus-one with three shots on goal. More important, he played a solid game in his own of the ice with no glaring mental lapses or physical errors. Through the first four games, has one assist, two penalty minutes, 10 shots and is a minus-one.

* Flyers 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin played arguably his strongest game of the tournament to date — and received more ice time in the first two periods — in Canada’s hard-fought 5-3 win over Team USA. Morin is plus-two with two shots on goal and two penalty minutes through the end of preliminary round play.

******** PHANTOMS UPDATE: LEHIGH VALLEY BLOWN OUT ON NEW YEAR’S EVE

Thus far in the 2014-15 season, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate has been a much tougher opponent to beat on home ice than on the road. That pattern continued on Wednesday as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms got blown out, 6-2, by the host Binghamton Senators.

Things started out well enough for Terry Murray’s club, as the Phantoms went to the first intermission deadlocked at 2-2 after briefly holding a 2-1 lead. Mid-period goals by Jason Akeson (seventh of the season) and Blair Jones (fourth of the season) led the way. Brett Hextall assisted on both tallies, while Akeson had the primary helper on the Jones goal.

Thereafter, the Senators took over the game. Binghamton scored four goals in the second period to take an insurmountable lead.

Six different Sens players scored: David Dziuurzynski (third goal of the season) and Shane Prince (11th) both scored in the opening stanza. In the second period, Cole Schneider (11th), Alex Grant (fifth), Derek Grant (12th) and Matt Puempel (seventh) broke open the game. Puempel and Grant also had assists and fights in the game to complete respective Gordie Howe Hat Tricks.

Anthony Stolarz made the start in goal for the Phantoms, returning after suffering a minor head injury last Friday aganst Hershey. Stolarz got pulled in the second period after Binghamton’s fifth goal on 21 shots. Rob Zepp went the rest of the way, stopping seven of eight shots. Scott Greenham went the distance in goal for Binghamton, stopping 33 of 35 shots.

Ryan White, who is on a three-game AHL conditioning assignment while rehabbing from off-season pectoral muscle repair surgery, was in the lineup fr the Phantoms. He centered the third line with wingers Austin Fyten and Andrew Gordon. White also served on the penalty kill as the Phantoms went 4-for-5. With White in the lineup, Darroll Powe sat out.

Mark Alt, who left last Friday’s game early due to an upper-body injury, was in the lineup for Lehigh Valley after missing the game against Norfolk. He was minus-two against the Sens.

Rookie forward Taylor Leier missed the game due an undisclosed injury. Leier was apparently shaken up by a hit he took in the second period of Saturday’s game in Norfolk. Other Phantoms scratches were Jesper Pettersson (healthy), Robert Hägg (on leave to play in World Junior Championships), Shayne Gostisbehere (torn ACL rehab).

*********** FLYERS ALUMNI UPDATES FROM FlyersAlumni.org

*On Friday, January 9, the Flyers and the members of the Flyers Alumni Association will work in conjunction with USA Hockey and AAA Mid-Atlantic to host a youth hockey night at the Wells Fargo Center. There will be three hockey clinics for children ages eight and under, with 60 kids apiece in each segment taking part in drills and receiving hands-on instruction.

Among the participants in the event are Flyers club president Paul Holmgren, Flyers Hall of Fame inductee Brian Propp and longtime fan favorite Todd “Fridge” Fedoruk.

The event runs from 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. (there will be media availability beginning at 6:30). Along with the Flyers taking the youth players through drills and instruction, there will be Q and A sessions for parents in attendance. USA Hockey personnel will run the on-ice clinics and “Chalk Talk” sessions with the parents.

* On Saturday, Jan. 10, the Flyers Alumni will play a benefit game at the Ice Works in Aston, PA.The game, pitting the Alumni against the Checkmates Charitable Association, will raise money for the fight against Ulceratve Colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

All proceeds will go to benefit Woodbury Medical Plaza Gastrointestinal Associates (DiMarino-Kroop-Prieto). There will also be a fundraising dinner with the Alumni. Tickets for the game cost $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Adults can also purchase tickets for the dinner for an additional $10. For more information, click here.

* On Jan 17, the Flyers Alumni return to the Ice Works for the Third Annual Center for Autism Winter Classic.

Puck drop for the game game between the Flyers Alumni and the Autism Puzzlers will be at 7;30 p.m. with doors opening at 7:00. Ninety minutes prior to doors opening, at 5:30 p.m., day-of-event tickets will be available along with a silent auction. In addition to the silent auction, the Winter Classic activities will include a 50/50 raffle, a Chuck-a-Puck contest, and a postgame autograph signing & player meet & greet with the Flyers Alumni.

* A special thank you goes out to everyone who supported the annual Jeff Burd Memorial game between the Flyers Alumni and Cherokee Chiefs Alumni at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, on Dec. 28.

One hundred percent of the proceeds raised will now go to support four charities:the Jeff Burd Memorial Fund, the National Meningitis Association, USA Wounded Warriors and Wings of Steel Sled Hockey. Here are some special video highlights recapping the night:

* Today in Flyers History: The Flyers have played only seven New Year’s Day games in franchise history. All have been away games. Most notably, the Flyers played the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park in the third NHL Winter Classic. The Flyers have a 4-1-1 record with one tie (1972). The Winter Classic game in 2010 is the only New Year’s Day match the Flyers have played since 1983.

For a quick-read mini-history, click here.

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