Lack of Discipline, Mental Mistakes Costing Flyers Early-Season Points
While there have been many positives in the 4-1-1 start to the regular season, something has been rearing its ugly head in the Philadelphia Flyers game that has haunted them in the past.
The lack of discipline that was so apparent at times for much of the past few seasons, even back to when John Stevens coached the squad, has now cost the Flyers a few points in the standings.
Philadelphia was lucky enough to come out of their home opener a week ago with two points. After building an early lead on the strength of five first period power plays, they gave the lethal Vancouver Canucks man advantage unit four kicks at the can in the third. They were barely able to hang on for a 5-4 victory.
In the very next contest, against Mike Richards and the Los Angeles Kings, the Flyers gave up eight PP opportunities – including four in the third. The fourth of the period – a James van Riemsdyk tripping minor – came with just 20 seconds left in regulation and carried into overtime. Defenseman Jack Johnson was able to bury a perfect pass from Richards with one tick on the penalty clock left, and Philly had lost a valuable point.
Tonight was to be a much-heralded showcase game between two of the Eastern Conference titans, as the 5-0-0 Washington Capitals invaded the Wells Fargo Center to take on the 4-0-1 Flyers. Claude Giroux scored a goal early, beating Tomas Vokoun on a breakaway to stake Philadelphia to a 1-0 lead that they carried late into the opening frame.
Then came a brutal mental mistake.
Brayden Schenn made a nice play to pass the puck from behind the Flyers net up the defensive left wing boards that Scott Hartnell had gotten to first, with no other players around him. Hartnell had plenty of time to gather it up and clear the zone. Instead, he picked up the puck, wheeled and fired a blind outlet pass up the middle of the ice. The pass went right to the stick of Washington’s Mathieu Perreault, who sent a shot towards the Flyers goal. The shot hit Philadelphia defenseman Brayden Coburn’s stick and deflected past Ilya Bryzgalov. At 18:40, the game was now knotted up at 1-1.
The mental breakdown put the Flyers on their heels, and Alexander Ovechkin knocked a Nicklas Backstrom rebound past Bryzgalov with just 11.9 seconds remaining.
Instead of heading into the first intermission with an impressive period of play and a 1-0 lead, Philly found themselves trailing 2-1.
“The two first goals give you a little breath and you feel good about how you play at the end of the period,” Ovechkin said after the game. It was the exact opposite feeling for the Flyers.
“The first period I didn’t mind how we were playing at all,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his post-game press conference. ”Until we made a mistake (Hartnell’s turnover) and then we had a little bit of a let down and just following that, then they scored the second one late in the first period.”
After a fairly even second period, Philadelphia came unraveled in the third.
Defenseman Andreas Lilja attempted to swat down Roman Hamrlik’s point shot from the slot area. Instead, he deflected the puck and changed its trajectory just enough to send the shot up over Bryzgalov’s shoulder, just 2:23 into the stanza.
Shortly after the Caps’ goal, Chris Pronger took a tripping penalty, sending Washington to their fifth power play of the night. Ovechkin would be the benefactor of another bounce, as Max Talbot got his stick in place to block Ovie’s shot from the slot. But Ovechkin’s shot ramped up off of Talbot’s stick and sailed past Bryzgalov.
A game that should have been competitive until the final buzzer became an eventual 5-2 rout, mainly because of mental mistakes and bad penalties.
Another problem this team had last year was the knack for giving up goals in bunches. Tonight was a classic example of just that, as they gave up two in a 1:08 span late in the first, and three in just 2:25 early in the third.
“There was a couple spurts,” explained center Danny Briere. ”The one, they scored two goals back-to-back (late in the first) and in the beginning of the third period. There may be a span of about ten minutes where we did not play good hockey.”
Unfortunately for the Flyers, as was the case in many of those short spans of bad hockey last year, it killed them tonight.
Pronger was asked what the team had to do to correct the propensity for taking bad penalties, and he wasn’t exactly sure what had to happen to bring about the change. “That’s a good question, and we’ll have to figure it out,” he said. ”Until we do, we’ll have back and forth nights like this.”
One of the worst offenders over the past few seasons that has continued this year is Briere. He has had six minors in the first six contests, and all six were stick-related infractions.
“There were turnovers, both teams turned the puck over,” Laviolette said. ”We went to the box too much, that’s obvious, and there were some tough breaks out there as well tonight.” The parade to the penalty box was obvious, as Philly was shorthanded another six occasions tonight, with the Capitals scoring once. The Flyers only had two man advantages in the game.
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who saw a season-low 13:16 of ice time due to blocking a slap shot that struck his hand, didn’t mince words about the penalties. “Obviously, we talk about that almost every game that we need to cut back on penalties and if we can minimize the penalties to four or five or whatever that is, that’s great, but anything that goes over four or five, that’s killing the bench,” he said. ”Some guys have to play more and obviously that’s a little bit of a problem. There’s a couple of high sticks, you know, sticks are flying and you can’t, it’s bad luck, too, but I guess you have to control your stick.”
While he said it has been a problem over the past few games, Timonen did see some hope for the club correcting the issues in the future. ”I don’t see that as a problem moving forward, but right now in the last couple of games, we’ve been taking too many penalties and that’s true.”
Hartnell’s no-look turnover when all by himself turned the momentum of the game.
“You look at the score sheet after the game and we are minus-3,” Hartnell said after the game of himself and Schenn. ”It’s pretty frustrating. A lot of those goals were backdoor tip and one went off our stick. I had a bad turnover in the first period. You eliminate my turnover and it was just a couple of bad breaks.”
Pronger was spot on in his assessment of the game with his final words. ”The penalties in the first ruined the flow (of the game), and then we did a pretty good job killing them,” the captain pointed out. ”But again they ruin the flow of the bench. We turned the puck over in the last five minutes a number of times, and eventually the turnovers got to us and they scored a couple of goals on us. A decent second, but still turnovers. And that seems to be the word of the day is turnovers and penalties, and I’m going to stick with it.”
And he should, because he is exactly correct. One thing that is certain is this team can many times be its own worst enemy, and tonight was definitely one of those occasions.
As Laviolette was quick to point out in his post-game press conference after Saturday’s lost point against the Kings, every point is valuable – even very early in the season. Tonight, two possibly very important points were lost. We’ll see if it comes back to haunt the Flyers late in the season when they’ll no doubt be jockeying for a playoff spot.