It was so close. The now mythical three-game winning streak, a feat not yet accomplished by the Flyers in 2013, was just 41 minutes away in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Sitting at .500 after back-to-back wins, the first period produced both offense and optimism; it seemed like all was right in the land of the orange and black. Then THE line change happened: you know, that awful, inexcusable line change with less than a minute to go in the period that allowed Ryan Callahan to tie the game. Two goals from Rick Nash later, the team is back to square one after yet another bitter defeat.
There are many reasons to be particularly frustrated about dropping this one. After hosting the Senators in an afternoon affair on Saturday, the team had ample time to prepare for it’s divisional battle last night. Peter Laviolette said afterwards that they spent that time talking about how to eliminate the mental mistakes that have been plaguing their game this season. The Flyers then proceeded to step onto the MSG ice and do nothing but ‘shoot themselves in the foot’, as Laviolette so plainly stated soon after.
Meanwhile, in the pressroom, John Tortorella was lamenting his team’s penalties in the first period that allowed them to fall behind early. After going a man down three times in the first, the Rangers responded by never taking another penalty until Stu Bickel and Scott Hartnell were coincidentally booted with less than three minutes to play.
As far as I can tell, there was no mention from Lavi afterwards about the holding penalty Simon Gagne took in the offensive zone in the final frame or Scott Hartnell’s cross check less than one minute after falling behind by two. It’s tough establish any form of a comeback when you waste 1/5 of the final period killing off silly penalties, regardless of whether or not they were successfully defended (they were). However, there were so many issues to focus on, this particular one seemingly went ignored.
We have reached the halfway point of the season, and the Flyers are still committing so many mental mistakes that there isn’t even enough time for Lavi to address them all. Yet in the other locker room, the players clearly respond with vigor to Tortorella, vindicating his postgame claims with commitment and mental fortitude. The difference? The Rangers seem to be righting the ship, while the Flyers continue to paddle in spurts and hope the lackluster effort will allow them to float into the playoffs.
The importance of this game could not have gone unnoticed in the copious amount of time they had to prepare; yet they failed to deliver on some of the most fundamental principles after addressing them distinctly beforehand. Forget eliminating the mistakes, because at this point you can only hope to keep track of them all.
The hope lies in those rare glimpses of flash. The offense has used the power play to get back on track, and Ilya Bryzgalov has continued to shine in the crease. The defense doesn’t blow you away, but they have the ability to make their presence felt with grit and physical play. Throughout the season they have shown flashes of dominance against some of the best in the conference, and seemingly stand only in their own way of some continued success; but something has to give soon, because time is running out.
The next week will not be easy for the Flyers. With four games between now and Wednesday, they face two of the current top-five teams in the NHL (Pittsburgh and Boston) along with a bitter division rival in New Jersey. The week is salvaged only slightly by a ‘night off’ against Ryan Miller and Buffalo. That means they need to beat one of NJ/Boston/Pittsburgh to just reach the .500 mark on the week and simply maintain their place in the thick of the standings.
It might be me, but with the trade deadline quickly approaching this feels like a make-or-break week for the organization against some of the best in the East. I hope you’ve got your cocktails ready….
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