It’s not every day you can level the accusation at the Eastern Conference leaders, who outshot their opposition by a 39-29 margin, that they played one of their most ineffective games of the season.
But it happened on Tuesday night, as the Philadelphia Flyers returned from a successful four-game road trip and were beaten by a better Phoenix Coyotes squad by a 3-2 count in overtime.
Shane Doan, the longest-tenured player in the Coyotes/Jets franchise history, notched the winner on a one-timer from the left circle while on a power play with 2:19 left in the extra session.
The deciding tally was set up by the final penalty of the contest, a phantom hooking foul called on Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen at the 1:36 mark. Radim Vrbata, who registered a pair of assists on the evening, sent a slick cross-ice pass to the Phoenix captain for the successful shot.
“We obviously took advantage of a couple of bounces,” Doan said. “It was a big two points for us. Anytime we come to this building, you know it going to be a tough game and we found a way.”
It capped a stellar game for Ilya Bryzgalov, who made his 19th straight start but nonetheless got the win with 37 saves. The Coyotes, who lead the Pacific Division, picked up their eighth straight win — the second straight season it’s happened, after a nine-game run from March 4-21, 2010.
Ville Leino and Claude Giroux managed to hit the net for Philly, which had won six of eight entering play and failed to become the first team in the NHL to reach the 40-win plateau.
Sergei Bobrovsky lost despite making 26 saves, but showed disturbing flashes of his raw, rookie side. He had trouble controlling and handling the puck throughout the contest, and badly misplayed a bouncing Taylor Pyatt shot with 9 1/2 minutes remaining that gave the visitors a one-goal edge.
Giroux saved the home team’s bacon with 1:13 remaining, when his second-chance shot, taken while falling to the ice, sailed up under the crossbar to knot the game 2-2. Save for the opening shifts of the game, it was the only time the second-best club in the NHL flashed signs of willful dominance. It wound up being the Orange and Black’s first home defeat since January 22.
Coming off a successful four-game road trip that resulted in three wins, the Flyers were all over the visitors in the early stages of the contest.
Yet, it was a fluke goal which gave Laviolette’s club the lead.
Matt Carle got the puck near the boards at the blue line on the left wing and let a floater go towards the Phoenix net. Touched at least once near the center of the ice, possibly by Leino, the puck ultimately changed direction off Coyotes forward Sami Lepisto, took a bad hop and sailed past Bryzgalov at the 6:24 mark of the opening period.
Despite a late-period power play, the Flyers failed to add to their advantage and led 1-0 after one.
Things got dicey just 17 seconds into the second period.
After the Coyotes came on a rush, Bobrovsky covered up the puck at the left post. Clearly after the whistle blew, former Flyer Scottie Upshall levelled spare defenseman Oskars Bartulis with a hard, high check.
The Latvian backliner, pressed into service after Sean O’Donnell is expected be out for up to two weeks, crumpled to the ice heavily and landed on his shoulder. He left with what was termed as an upper-body injury and did not return.
“Oskars was standing there minding his own business,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. “It was a late hit. I have a little bit of a problem with it, yeah. It’s not really like Scotty to do that.”
It was not the impression Upshall hoped to make in his first game back on South Broad Street since he was dealt for Dan Carcillo in March, 2009. He was heartily booed for the remainder of the game every time he touched the puck.
“I didn’t intentionally go to hit him, let alone hit him into the boards," Upshall said in his own defense. "You know what? I’ve been off balance before where you can’t find your footing and you try to plant. It was a play that is usually a routine shoulder-to-shoulder kind of play going hard to the net."
Philly failed to capitalize on Upshall’s boarding penalty, or a subsequent call to Nolan Yonkman for cross-checking. Phoenix also couldn’t find the net despite two advantages in the final four-plus minutes of the second.
Playing against just five defensemen, the Coyotes finally got their break at 2:54 of the third.
Mikkel Boedker eluded a Flyers’ defenseman in the neutral zone and carried down the right wing all the way behind Bobrovsky’s net. Spinning away from another checker, he slid a pass through the slot for a one-timer by Eric Belanger for a 1-1 tie.
Bobrovsky later channeled the spirit of Stephane Beauregard and countless other hapless former Philadelphia netminders, totally flubbing that uncontested Pyatt shot into the net for a 2-1 contest with 9 1/2 minutes remaining.
Two more Coyotes penalties passed without the home team solving Bryzgalov, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. James van Riemsdyk was absolutely stoned by the Russian goaler, as his quick chance from the left side with 2:36 remaining met a left pad on its way to a half-open net.
"I feel good…especially when you’re winning, you don’t feel too much tiredness," said Bryzgalov. "I think in the last stretch –- the last eight or nine games, I’ve played very well."
Pinned in their own end for periods of time as the game progressed due to Phoenix’s modified trap, it wasn’t until Bobrovsky went to the bench for an extra attacker in the final 1:24 that the Flyers showed some real spark.
It paid off temporarily in the tying score, as work by Jeff Carter and Mike Richards through bodies in the slot worked the disc to Giroux for his 21st of the season.
Notes: The Flyers fell to 16-6-0 since New Year’s Day…The Coyotes improved to 4-5-1 in 10 games at Philadelphia since 1996…Winnipeg/Phoenix upped its all-time mark here to 10-23-1 since entering the NHL in 1979…Doan participated in the 1,098th game with the Jets/Coyotes, tying him with Teppo Numminen for most on the all-time list…He is the last skater in the NHL who dressed for the Jets before their 1996 relocation…Phoenix has won two of its last three appearances in the Quaker City…This was Vrbata’s second two-assist game in the last four…Jody Shelley was the recipient of 60 stitches following his second-period fight with Yonkman…Kris Versteeg, acquired from Toronto last week, made his home debut, finishing a plus-one with one shot on goal in 13:32 of ice time.