I think we could all really do without the New Jersey Devils, don’t you agree fans? The Flyers returned home from Buffalo in an attempt to keep up the nice head of momentum the built after back-to-back wins over the Hurricanes and Sabres.
Things started well for Philadelphia, which took a 2-0 lead midway through the second period after goals by Zac Rinaldo and Claude Giroux. Unfortunately, a mere 51 seconds later, the Devils opened up their scoring when Zach Parise beat Braydon Coburn to the puck after it slipped off of Adam Henrique’s blade and lifted a perfect backhand shot over Sergei Bobrovsky’s right shoulder to cut the Flyer lead to 2-1. The puck was mired in traffic and Coburn may have blocked Bobrovsky’s view of the puck a bit, but near-side goals are tough ones to give up. Ultimately, however, I’m going to chalk this up to bad luck and a perfect shot by Parise.
Just under 3 minutes later, an errant Andrej Meszaros pass bounced off of Andreas Lilja’s skate and directly onto the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk. Entering into a 2-on-1 with Adam Henrique, Kovalchuk threaded a pass perfectly onto Henrique’s stick who sent a shot with pinpoint accuracy inside the near post before a sliding Bobrovsky could block it with his skate. Meszaros and Lilja combined for a terrible turnover which the Devils’ superstar forward capitalized on, showing a passing accuracy that he seldom displays to feed Henrique. There was nothing that the Flyers’ defenseless goaltender could have done.
Philadelphia regained the lead in the third period on a goal by offensive juggernaut Maxime Talbot (tiddy-boom), but couldn’t hold it. With about 6 and a half minutes left in the third period, an egregious giveaway by Matt Carle on a failed outlet pass led to Patrick Elias sending David Clarkson in on Bobrovsky, who made a nifty forehand-backhand move to beat the Flyer goaltender and tie the game. Clarkson quickly elevated the puck which deflected off of Bobrovsky’s left arm and into the net. Bobrovsky collapsed backward in disbelief, as it always hurts to get so much of the puck and still have it go into the net.
As is typical for him, Bobrovsky didn’t look at his best in the shootout and the Devils eventually prevailed on Elias’s goal, giving them the 4-3 win. Overall, however, Bobrovsky was strong in the game, at times keeping the Flyers in it by stopping 36 of the 39 shots New Jersey threw at the Philadelphia net.
The Flyers’ luck would change, however, two nights later when they welcomed the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets onto Wells Fargo Center ice. Without big-time offseason acquisition Jeff Carter, and perhaps this even would have happened with him, the Blue Jackets put forward a horrendous effort as the Flyers easily blew them out of the building.
Philadelphia dominated play through two periods, taking a commanding 8-0 lead into the third and outshooting Columbus 27-14. However the tide would change in this period, as the Flyers seemed to sit back with their huge lead and allow the Jackets to start to assert themselves.
A little over 13 minutes into the period, Danny Briere won an offensive zone draw so cleanly that it slipped past an overly-aggressive Andrej Meszaros and caused a 3-on-2 break. This led to Derek Dorsett zipping a wrist shot past Ilya Bryzgalov’s blocker to get the Jackets on the board. Columbus had numbers and Dorsett placed his shot perfectly inside the post for the goal. It’s not a bad goal to allow, but you don’t like to see your $6 million goaltender allow a guy who’s scored 14 goals in 193 career games to cleanly beat him.
Later in the period, after the Flyers had regained their 8-goal lead, the Blue Jackets added another goal onto the board courtesy of Andrej Meszaros. After collecting the puck in the neutral zone, former Flyer Vaclav Prospal breached the Philadelphia blue line and dropped the puck to defenseman Grant Clitsome. Clitsome sent a wrist shot toward the net which deflected off of Meszaros’s stick and under the outstretched blocker of Bryzgalov. It seemed that Meszaros was trying to get his stick out of the way of the puck, but nonetheless it led to another one of those fluky goals which have plagued Bryzgalov all season. His frustration was evident as he threw both arms up in frustration before slamming his stick to the ice.
In all, Bryzgalov was very solid against the Blue Jackets. He wasn’t tested much throughout the game, but the Jackets outshot the Flyers 21-6 in the closing stanza and Bryzgalov was equal to the challenge, finishing the game with 33 saves on 35 Columbus shots. With that performance, Bryzgalov moved within .007 percentage points of the .900 SV% mark as he attempts to bring his numbers back to respectability. Two good games in a row are a good start, but he needs to continue.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
• Nikolai Khabibulin is playing completely out of his mind. His 0.98 GAA is the lowest that a goaltender has posted in his first 9 starts since the original expansion. He looks to continue his trend of playing excellently in contract years.
• Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Wild have quite a goaltending tandem on their hands. Both starter Niklas Backstrom and oft-injured backup Josh Harding have begun with hot starts, combining for a 1.79 GAA and .941 SV%