Tapping the Pipes 11/15/11

Sun, sand, and hockey. What more could one want?

The Flyers’ tour of the Southeast Division was quite fruitful for the Orange and Black, tallying 5 of a possible 6 points in victories over Carolina and Florida and an overtime loss to Tampa Bay. Just as importantly, perhaps, the goaltending was top-notch.

The trip began last Wednesday with the game in Tampa. In a matchup more notable for its plodding pace thanks to Tampa’s “neutral-zone trap” and the Flyers’ refusal to play into it, Ilya Bryzgalov added to his quiet run of solid play  in a losing effort.

With the Flyers leading 1-0 on a second period goal by Scott Hartnell, the Lightning converted a power-play opportunity seven minutes into the third period. As Jakub Voracek stewed in the box for tripping, Steven Stamkos found the puck on his stick and flipped it across the blue line to offensive defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who wired a slapshot into the far side of the net to tie the game. Sean Couturier may have flashed in front of Bryzgalov for just a moment, but the bottom line is that Bergeron’s shot was an absolute rocket and unstoppable for most goalies in the league.

There was no other scoring until exactly halfway through overtime when Tampa Bay rookie Brett Connolly took advantage of some shoddy defensive play to earn the win for the Lightning.

The Bolts broke into the zone 2-on-2 with Dominic Moore and Connolly pushing in against Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. With the puck, Moore drove the net as Coburn tried and failed to push him wide and flipped a shot in on Bryzgalov. The puck hit Bryzgalov’s pad and caromed out in front. Once Meszaros took a swipe at the puck and missed, Connolly had his try and was able to put it in the net before Bryzgalov could get over.

The deciding goal resulted from a total defensive breakdown and is yet another tally that cannot be put completely on Bryzgalov’s shoulders. The Flyers goaltender finished the game with 22 saves on 24 shots.

After a break of three full days, Bryzgalov was back between the pipes in Sunrise  against the resurgent Panthers. The Flyers, however, seemed to brush Florida’s recent success under the rug early in the game, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on Danny Briere’s late-first period goal and stretching the lead to 2-0 with Braydon Coburn’s tally in the second.

The Panthers quickly came back when Evgeni Dadonov streaked down the far boards and beat Bryzgalov over his blocker to cut the lead in half. The puck may possibly have ramped up off of Chris Pronger’s extended stick, but still it’s a bad goal. A recent AHL call-up should not be able to beat an all-star goaltender on a near-side shot.

Florida didn’t score again until just under 8 seconds remaining in regulation with Jose Theodore pulled for an extra attacker.

After a mad scramble in front of the net as the Panthers desperately attempted pull within a goal, the puck found its way onto Tomas Fleischmann’s stick who put the puck through a maze of bodies and into the net behind Bryzgalov. The Flyer goaltender had already made a stop in the scramble but was unable to locate the puck as it bounced around between skates and to the eventual goal-scorer.

That would have been a tough goal to have the game tied or lost on, but there is little a goaltender can do when he can’t see the puck. Bryzgalov finished the game with 31 saves on 33 shots, including stopping 15 of 16 in the third period alone.

The following night, the Flyers came rolling into Carolina with a swagger, having defeated them 5-1 in their previous meeting. Philadelphia changed it up a bit with Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, Bryzgalov getting the rest for the second game in as many nights.

For most of the first period, the Flyers dominated, jumping out to a 2-0 lead and being staked to a power play late in the period and a chance to go up by three. Patrick Dwyer threw a monkey wrench into those plans.

After a James van Riemdsyk turnover at the blue line, Erik Staal and Dwyer went in 2-on-1 against Chris Pronger and Bobrovsky with van Riemsdyk desperately racing to get back into the play. Pronger challenged Staal, but the big forward threaded a pass between the Flyer captain’s skates and onto Dwyer’s tape. He had Bobrovsky completely guessing, stretching both skates to the posts and reaching his glove up high to stop a high shot, but Dwyer instead went low through Bobrovsky’s wide open legs.

Odd-man rushes are always tough and Bobrovsky was put in an interesting spot, but he didn’t look like a legitimate starter on this goal.

The Flyers would eventually build up a 4-1 lead, but the Hurricanes would again cut into the lead just past the halfway mark of the 2nd period.

Breaking in on a 3-on-2, Tuomo Ruutu, Jeff Skinner, and Jussi Jokinen worked a nifty tic-tac-toe passing play which eventually culminated in Ruutu tallying Carolina’s second goal of the night. Jokinen sent a nice saucer pass across the ice which Ruutu one-timed into the near side of the net a half a second before Bobrovsky could seal off the opening.

Early in the third, the Hurricanes struck again shorthanded — and again off the stick of Patrick Dwyer. After having been hauled down on a breakaway, Dwyer was awarded a penalty shot and closed in on Bobrovsky with speed. This time Bobrovsky got his pad edges down to stop a low shot, but Dwyer elevated his shot just enough to get it over the Flyer goaltender’s pad and bank it high into the net.

Bobrovsky hardly ever looks good in one-on-one situations, but this one wasn’t a bad effort, Dwyer simply beat him. The Flyers held on to win with the young Russian finishing with 17 saves on 20 shots.

Overall this was a very good series of games for Flyers goaltenders, particularly for Bryzgalov. He was very solid, by my count only allowing one questionable goal. He finished the week with 53 saves on 57 shots for a .930 save percentage. After a miserable start, Bryzgalov has raised his total to .899, which isn’t good at first glance, but when you consider the start it’s a great improvement.

Bobrovsky’s 17 saves on 20 shots against Carolina made for an .850 SV% and he still looks shaky on breakaways but overall he continues to be good in spite of the statistics.