LOS ANGELES -- Michael Leighton can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
For the first time in 209 days, since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, he is back in the win column. It may not have been pretty, but Leighton settled down after two goals against in the first 11 minutes as the Flyers rallied for a 7-4 win over the Kings at Staples Center.
“The team really saved my butt tonight,” Leighton said. “I’m really not too excited about the way that I played. It was good to get back. We got a win and they did a great job scoring some goals for me.”
Leighton said he wasn’t nervous in the first period, in his first NHL game since June 9, but rather that he was probably a little over-excited. He may - or may not - have chugged a few ‘5 Hour Energy’ drinks before the game.
“I wasn’t too nervous,” he explained. “I was just more excited to get out there. That obviously backfired a little bit. The first goal was pretty weak.”
Leighton had made four rehab starts with the Adirondack Phantoms earlier in the month, but beside one preseason start in Toronto, this was Leighton’s first start since “the goal” against Patrick Kane that still makes Flyers fans queasy.
“I think that when you’re off for a long period of time, and you’re coming off from surgery, and you’re coming back to the National Hockey League [his emphasis] without a lot of work, you’re probably going to have to feel your way around a little bit,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “And I’d say anyone’s got to do that. But then it really makes it tough on a goaltender.
“It was good for him to get through it, get us a win and get us back on track.”
After the first period, Leighton allowed a much more respectable two goals on 26 shots.
During the second intermission, with the Flyers holding a two-goal edge, goaltending coach Jeff Reese had a message for Leighton in the locker room. Leighton went back out to turn aside all 10 shots thrown his way as the Ville Leino turned a two-goal lead into a three-goal cushion.
“I definitely felt better in the third period,” Leighton said. “He told me I’ve got to start fighting for pucks more and that when the puck goes back to the point, I’ve got to try and find it. Because I wasn’t seeing the puck coming in.
“That really seemed to help. Hopefully I can build off of that.”
LUPUL TONIGHT: We caught up with former Flyer Joffrey Lupul back in October when his Ducks came to Philadelphia. You can read more about the rare blood infection Lupul suffered through in Anaheim since being traded by the Flyers.
Since then, Lupul has played 12 games with the Ducks and has picked up 4 goals and an assist.
Luca Sbisa, also sent to Anaheim with Lupul in exchange for Chris Pronger in June, 2009, has 1 goal and 1 assist with a minus-6 rating in 26 games. Sbisa, 20, is in his first full NHL season. He hasn't exactly looked as impressive as he did in 39 games with the Flyers in 2008 before being sent back to junior hockey.
LINE CHANGES: Expect the Flyers lines to remain the same tonight in Anaheim as they look to take two games in Southern California.
Last night was the first time all season that Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere and Ville Leino didn’t start the game together. That didn’t seem to matter.
“Sometimes you just need a little bit of a shakeup to get things going,” said Mike Richards. “Maybe a little bit of beginners luck with the lines.”
Here’s what clicked last night:
Briere - Richards - Van Riemsdyk
Hartnell - Giroux - Zherdev
Nodl - Carter - Leino
Carcillo - Betts - Powe
VAN RIEMSDYK PRAISE: Lost in the shuffle with a 4 point night from Richards and 3 assists from Claude Giroux, Laviolette said he was very impressed with James van Riemsdyk’s game last night.
Van Riemsdyk added a goal and an assist, just his second two-point game of the season. His goal came on the power play and he made a beautiful pass on a poised play, sidestepping a Los Angeles defenseman to find Richards alone in front of the net.
“The thing most noticeable about James right now, for me, is his speed,” Laviolette said. “He’s strong with his legs, he’s strong with his skating and that puts him involved in everything. He can get in on a hit, he can get in on a rush, he can get in on a rebound.
“The speed for me is the key to his success and he’s moving really well on the ice right now.”
ZHERDEV BENCHED: If you missed Nik Zherdev on the ice in the second period, you weren’t alone. Zherdev took a stupid penalty in the first period and paid for it by not skating again until the third period.
Laviolette wouldn’t confirm the benching, but his shift chart did.
Was he hurt? A report from another outlet before the game said Zherdev was hurt on Thursday in practice.
“I don’t believe so,” Laviolette said.
So you benched him?
“I was just playing lines,” Laviolette said.
Yes, Laviolette was just playing lines. Without Zherdev.
STATS OF THE NIGHT: The Flyers were not credited with a takeaway, which has not happened since Nov. 6, 2009 at Buffalo.
After being outshot, 36-28, the Flyers have now been outshot in 3 consecutive games, 4 out of their last 5 and 7 out of their last 10 dating back to Dec. 5. That 10 game run started after the Flyers outshot their opponent 6 games in a row.
ROAD TRIPPING: If you’re a Philly fan living in Southern California, you have a chance to make a rare road trip and see both the Flyers and Sixers in the same day. The Flyers play at 5 o’clock (PST) in Anaheim, which is 33 miles south of the Staples Center in Orange County, and the Sixers are at the Staples Center for a 7:30 pm (PST) tip-off with the defending-champion Lakers.
I can’t remember a time when both teams have been so far away from home and playing in the same area on the same day. Can you?
STAR SIGHTING: While Lakers games at the Staples Center are usually packed with fans, the Flyers had a special guest in the locker room after their game: actor David Boreanaz from the FOX hit show “Bones” and formerly “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.”
Boreanaz, 41, lives in Los Angeles. He is the son of retired Channel 6 weatherman Dave Roberts. Boreanaz grew up in Philadelphia and attended Malvern Prep before going to Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., before ultimately moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting.
Boreanaz wore a Flyers shirt and met with some of his favorite players, including Richards and Jeff Carter. He has attended multiple NHL events before, including All-Star Games and the Winter Classic, but maintains a Flyers blog occasionally on NHL.com.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Since today is New Years Eve, what are the only two days a year when none of the major four professional sports are in action in the United States? Hint: it’s not a holiday.
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