Atlantic Watch: 10/26-11/1

The week opened up roughly, but it ended smoothly as the Flyers seem to be moving towards playing better after a 5-1 win at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Giving up 14 goals in back-to-back nights, the Flyers lost in inexplicable fashion to two currently horrendous teams, who are both experiencing difficulties in play and personnel. Rebounding back from those two horrific losses, the Flyers spanked Carolina with both Danny Briere and Chris Pronger out of the lineup.

The Flyers began the real Halloween horror show by suffering a 5-1 defeat in Montreal last Wednesday, giving the lowly Habs their first road win of the year. After opening the scoring in the first period, the Flyers allowed five unanswered goals. Saving just 23-of-28 shots, Ilya Bryzgalov provided a performance that seemed to have more holes in it than swiss cheese ending the game with a save percentage of .821. Jaromir Jagr provided the only goal of the game, while not a single player in the Orange and Black registered a performance with a positive plus-minus.

Somehow, the lesson didn’t sink in, and 24 hours later the Flyers lost an utterly  defenseless game to the Winnipeg Jets 9-8 on Thursday. With both Flyers’ goalies taking unsuccessful cracks at stopping the Jets offense, Sergei Bobrovsky and Bryzgalov provided a gem of a goaltending display allowing nine goals on 25 shots for a combined save percentage of .640.

Briere, with two goals and two assists, and Kimmo Timonen, with four assists, led all skaters in points with four points for the game. In a furious a comeback from a 6-2 deficit in the second period, the Flyers scored three goals in a 2:53 span to open the third before allowing the Jets to score two goals in 61 seconds, occurring just moments after the flurry of Philly goals, to regain the lead.

Just as the team seemed vulnerable and weak, they came out and showed resilience in their 5-1 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday. After admitting he had no confidence in net after Thursday night’s debacle, Bryzgalov came out and provided a 24-save effort.

That goal was caused by Scott Hartnell sliding into Bryzgalov and taking him out of the play. Hartnell did plenty to erase the fact he caused Carolina’s lone goal on the evening as he had one goal and two assists of his own. Claude Giroux had a big evening as well posting a goal and three assists. Jagr had his second two-goal game of the season as he tallied the game-winner in the first minute of the third period.

Hartnell, after having only two assists in the first seven games, has had nine points in the last four games. In the three games that took place this week, Hartnell had two goals and four assists. His highlight performance came against the Hurricanes as he scored the first goal of the game and provided the primary assists on Giroux’s goal and Jagr’s second goal of the game.

Goaltending, after a summer filled with blockbuster trades and contract negotiations, is yet again at the top of the list for conversation related to this team at the moment.

Bryzgalov’s performance against the Hurricanes was impressive, but it was his comments after the Jets’ loss that made the big waves in the goaltending news this week. Not only did it strike fear in the Flyers’  fanbase, but it caused the team to try and implement new rules designed to keep Bryzgalov from talking to the media the day before he starts a game or the day of a game he is scheduled to start.

After just 11 games into this season, it is way too difficult to tell whether or not goaltending will serve as a problem for this team. Neither goalie has a pretty stat line. Bobrovsky has a save percentage of .859 and goals-against average of 3.75 in three starts, while Bryzgalov has a SV% of .880 and 3.16 GAA in eight starts.  These aren’t good stats at all, but fortunately the only way to go is up and both goaltenders have 72 games to prove they’re up to the responsibility. Bryzgalov looked strong in his last start and Bobrovsky was 2-0-0 before the Jets game.

For the second straight week, the Flyers will play three games in four nights spanning from Wednesday to Saturday night.

Beginning Wednesday, the Flyers visit Buffalo to take on Ville Leino and the rest of the Sabres at 7:30 PM. Tonight’s game is the first time Leino will play Philly since he signed a lucrative free-agent contract in the offseason, and the first time the Sabres and Flyers have met since last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

On Thursday, the Flyers return home to take on the New Jersey Devils for the second time this season. To conclude the week, the Orange and Black host the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s highly unlikely Jeff Carter will return to the lineup in time to face his old comrades as he is still week-to-week with a broken foot.    

Pittsburgh Penguins: 1-1-0. The Penguins outplayed both the Islanders and Maple Leafs drastically this week, but only managed to squeak out a shootout win against the Islanders. With a combined save percentage of .875, Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson didn’t exactly come through for a Penguins team that boasted three third-period goals this week.

In the midst of their breezy 19-day span with only five games, the Penguins will endure a sample-size West Coast road trip this week.

Bouncing back from a two-goal deficit early in the third period, the Penguins were able to find a way to win 3-2 against the Islanders in a shootout on Thursday. James Neal tied the game at two, with his team-leading ninth goal of the season in the middle of the third, while Evgeni Malkin had the deciding goal in the shootout as he made his return to the lineup after a six-game absence.

Chris Kunitz was the only player with two points in the game — providing Pittsburgh’s first goal and handing out the primary assist on the Pens’ second goal just 2:46 later. Despite 17 saves in regulation, Fleury held on for the victory making a save in the shooutout while the other two Islanders just decided not to hit the net on their attempts.

Phil Kessel deposited his league-leading 10th goal of the season halfway through the third period on Saturday to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 decision over the visiting Penguins. Kris Letang recorded two assists in the game to extend his total to 10 on the season, leading all Pens in that category. Malkin tallied his second goal of the season, his first since potting the game-winner against the Calgary Flames on October 8, with a power-play goal to tie the game at three.

Johnson had a shaky first period (one goal on six shots) and third period (two goals on 11 shots), which ultimately hurt the Pens as they lost despite dictating the game producing eight more shots and two more power-play opportunities. The Maple Leafs’ power-play unit dominated producing two goals on three opportunities.

The outcomes and intensity of this week’s games for Pittsburgh has to fall on the shoulders of their netminders. As both goalies presented games with save percentages below .900, neither man gave their team a chance to dominate this week. The Penguins defense was capable of limiting the opposition to just 48 shots in the two games, but the goalies allowed six of those to find the back of the cage. It wasn’t detrimental this week, but with tougher opponents this week the outcome could be different.

Tomorrow night, the Penguins’ goaltending will be tested as they visit the San Jose Sharks, a team averaging 2.90 goals-per-game (9th in the NHL) and 35.5 shots per game (2nd in the league). On Saturday, the Pens take on the Los Angeles Kings, facing old rivals Simon Gagne, Mike Richards for the first time since both became West Coast residents.

New York Rangers: 1-1-1. Playing the Northeast Division leader, a streaking Ottawa squad, and an average Western Conference foe, the Rangers produced the predictable 1-1-1 outcome this week.

Grabbing three points, the Rangers’ only win came with former Flyer Martin Biron in their net. Despite posting 32 and 36 save efforts, Henrik Lundqvist couldn’t find a win for his team although the Rangers did provide six goals in the two games he started.

Despite opening and closing the scoring, the Rangers were on the wrong side of a 4-2 loss against the Maple Leafs in New York on Thursday night. While 10 Maple Leafs registered at least one point in the game, the Rangers received goals from two unlikely sources. Both Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto scored their first  of the season as the Blueshirts were out shot 26-14 in the last 40 minutes of regulation.

Lundqvist made four more saves than the winning goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, but it probably didn’t help that both Tim Erixon and Steve Eminger posted efforts worthy of a minus-3 in front of him.

Staying in New York, the Rangers dropped their second straight game two days later, losing to the Senators 5-4 in a shootout. With a Brad Richards goal 8:05 into the third period, the Rangers held what is usually an iron-clad 4-1 lead and looked as though they were going to get their first home win of the season.

However, a pair of Milan Michalek goals and a tally from Jason Spezza pushed the game to overtime. Advancing to a shootout, Michalek irritated the Rangers yet again by scoring the only goal to give his team the extra point. Despite being outshot every period in regulation, the Rangers failed to capitalize in overtime despite dominating play with a 3-0 shot advantage.

As the saying goes, the third time was a charm for New York as they finally got their first home win of the season beating the San Jose Sharks 5-2 on Monday night. Scoring an astonishing, off-balance goal while being checked late in the last minute of the middle stanza, Ryan Callahan posted a two-goal night which included the game-winner. He also had the primary assist on Ryan McDonagh’s opening goal in the first period. Brandon Dubinsky and Erik Christensen had two-assist games as the Rangers scored three goals in the second period on 16 shots.

Marian Gaborik and Callahan led all Rangers this week with four points. Gaborik notched three of his points against the Sens – opening the scoring in the third and providing the primary assists on both of Richards’ goals. His fourth point came through an assist on Girardi’s first period goal against the Leafs.

Winning only four of their 10 games to this point of the season, the Rangers find themselves in the middle of the division with 11 points. Playing against two teams this week that are dwelling at the bottom of their division, the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks, the Rangers need to build off the momentum they have from Monday’s win against the Sharks.

Playing three home games over the next seven days, the Rangers start the week hosting the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow night. Two days later, Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens visit Manhattan. To conclude the Rangers’ trio of games this week, Nik Antropov returns to face his former team as the Jets play at the renovated MSG on Sunday night.

New Jersey Devils: 0-2-0. Dropping consecutive games to Pacific Division opponents isn’t the way the Devils intended to exit the month of October, but that’s exactly what they did this week losing to both the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars.

Although they didn’t break double digits in points this month, the Devils aren’t last in the division and have an opportunity to move up the standings this week with a busy four-game workload.

Thanks to two goals from Ray Whitney and 42 shots by the team overall, the Coyotes beat the visiting Devils 5-3 on Thursday night. Ironically, the only period the Devils out shot the Coyotes was the third (13-8), a period the Devils lost 2-1 with their lone goal coming from Nick Palmieri with only seven seconds left. Phoenix’s defense contributed offensively as both Keith Yandle and Dave Schlemko had two-assist nights. The only intriguing aspect for Devils’ fans is Adam Henrique recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Palmieri’s goal.

Concluding their West Coast trip on Saturday night, the Devils lost to the Stars 3-1. Petr Sykora was the only Devil to score registering his first goal of the season at the 12-minute mark of the second period. Sheldon Souray was the only player with two points on the night grabbing the secondary assist on Vernon Fiddler’s third period goal and taking advantage of the empty net with only three seconds left for his third goal of the season. Johan Hedberg received his second loss of the week allowing two goals on 22 shots.

Not a single Devil had a strong offensive week. Four goals in a two-game span isn’t embarrassing, especially when one of the opposing goaltenders is playing the way Kari Lehtonen has been, but not a single Devils registered two points in total. On 66 overall shots this week, the Devils only had one third-period goal. The Stars are a difficult team to play against right now, but the Coyotes are 22nd in the league with a 2.8o goals against per game. With four games against teams that all allow, on average, three goals a game, the Devils’ offense needs to step up in order for Jersey to end this tiny skid.

To open their string of three games in four nights, the Devils host the Maple Leafs tonight at 7:30 pm. Tomorrow, the Devils battle Philly in front of the Flyers faithful. Peter DeBoer’s club then returns home to host the Jets on Saturday night — which opens up a three-game homestand. Looking for their second win of the season against the ‘Canes, the Devils finish the week hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

New York Islanders: 0-0-2.  They didn’t find the win column this week, but the Long Islanders did manage to grab two points as they lost to the Penguins in a shootout and to the Sharks in overtime. 

Injury magnet and he of the 15-year contract albatross, Rick DiPietro finally made his first appearance of the season as he played in both games. Not surprisingly, the one-and-done Boston University product lost both of them. Despite holding leads late in both games, the Islanders dropped the ball twice to remain at the bottom of the division.

Gaining a two-goal lead early in the third period thanks to a Matt Martin marker, the Islanders allowed Kunitz and Neal to score goals minutes later to ultimately lose to the Pens 3-2 in a shootout. After making 30 saves in regulation and overtime, Evgeni Nabokov left the game before the shootout because he wasn’t feeling well. In his absence, DiPietro came in to make a save on Letang and allow the only goal in the shootout to Malkin. One good note came when journeyman Marty Reasoner recorded his first point as an Isle, providing the secondary assist on Martin’s goal.

Two days later, Jack Capuano’s team dropped their second straight 3-2 decision. This time, it was in overtime to the Sharks at home. In a game with four power-play goals overall, the Isles had a 2-1 lead halfway through the second period due to a Michael Grabner tally at the 11:28 mark. It only took Logan Couture 1:51 to tie the game at two. As Travis Hamonic sat in the sin bin for sending the puck over the glass in overtime, Brent Burns scored the game-winner just over a minute into the extra frame. In his first start of the season, DiPietro made 27 saves on 30 shots.

Lacking a single two-point game from any player in either game this week, three players led the Islanders with two points this week. Frans Nielsen is the only player in that trio who scored a goal this week as he tallied one just before the last minute of the first period against the Penguins. Nielsen’s second point was the secondary assist on Grabner’s power-play goal against the Sharks.

Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit were the other two Islanders with two points, both providing a pair of helpers. Okposo had the primary assists on Nielsen’s goal against the Pens and Grabner’s goal against the Sharks. Streit had the secondary assists on Nielsen’s goal and John Tavares’ second period power-play goal against the Sharks.

Tacking on their pair of losses past regulation this week, the Islanders haven’t won in their last five games dating back to their 4-2 home win over the Rangers on October 15. That being said, the Islanders sit at the bottom of the division trailing the Devils by a single point. If the Islanders can turn it around this week and grab five, possibly six, points, they could suddenly find themselves third or fourth in the division.

To do this, they would need to pull off some big wins along with some help from the Devils and Rangers. To start the week, the Islanders play the Jets at home tomorrow night. Finishing off their current three-game home stand, the Islanders will host the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals. Ending the week on Tuesday, the Islanders visit the Boston Bruins, a struggling team that is point-hungry and looking to put the Cup hangover past them.