Shaky progress for the Flyers
The Flyers had six days to bond and heal, regroup and reset a season that started with a turn so wrong that they ended up farther south in the standings than any other team in the NHL.
They essentially had a bye week, and they spent it trying to convince the world that they weren't ready to say goodbye to the significance of a season that is still in its embryonic stage.
The Flyers did some interesting things during those six days. There was the field trip across the street to Lincoln Financial Field, where they watched Chip Kelly's high-powered offense score three points in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Given their inability to net three goals in any of their first nine games, the Flyers may have mistaken that performance for an outburst.
If they did, it still could have been worse. At least they didn't sit in the Domonic Brown cheering section with the other Dallas fans, requiring a week's worth of apologies by the Phillies outfielder to inexplicably insulted Philadelphia fans.
The only thing that mattered, of course, was how the Flyers responded on the seventh day after their dispiriting loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that left them with just two points in eight games. Captain Claude Giroux promised during the break that the Flyers would get back on course and end up in the playoffs after missing Lord Stanley's tournament last season.
Thursday night's 2-1 win over the shorthanded New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center provided a shaky first skate in that direction. Plenty of issues remain, and a lot more convincing will be needed to erase the early-season doubts about this team, but a third-period goal from Braydon Coburn and a replay ruling that nullified a potential tying goal by the Rangers allowed the Flyers to celebrate their second win of the season.
It was an exhausting one.
"A little weight off your shoulders, I guess," winger Matt Read said after he scored the Flyers' first goal and assisted on the other. "We still haven't scored three goals in a game yet, which is something we have to strive to get. If we're going to win hockey games when you're not scoring, then you have to win them 1-0 or 2-1."
There was little time for the Flyers to roast marshmallows by the fire during their six-day break because coach Craig Berube had them skating and skating and skating some more with the hope that their goal-deprived sticks would catch fire. Extra practice time gave the coach a chance to tinker, no easy task when you have an entire roster of underachievers. (Goalie Steve Mason gets the only pardon for those first eight games, and he again was the best player on the ice for the Flyers on Thursday, with Read finishing a close second).
The most significant of Berube's alterations was placing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier on a line with Captain Giroux, who hasn't scored since the April 15 income-tax deadline, a career-long stretch that has reached 15 games. This scoreless night could have been worse for Giroux. Just 19 seconds after Coburn blasted a third-period shot through a Wayne Simmonds screen for the go-ahead goal, the Flyers' captain was sent to the penalty box for hooking.
During that power play, the Rangers appeared to tie the score when J.T. Miller put a rebound behind Mason after the goalie made a stick save on Brian Boyle. The Flyers complained that Miller intentionally kicked the puck in with his skate, and a replay man in Toronto agreed with them.
"I really didn't see the penalty [on Giroux]," Berube said.
A smile from the coach followed.
"We killed [the penalty]," he said, fully aware of his team's good fortune.
Berube also removed veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen from the primary power-play unit, replacing him with free-agent addition Mark Streit. The effect was nil. The Flyers went scoreless on four power-play attempts, including one that lasted five minutes. They are 3 for 37 this season.
Berube was by no means declaring the Flyers fixed.
"I still think that offensively we're not where we have to be," the coach said. "We don't put enough consistent pressure on the other team. We get in and we get some chances, but we need to have a little more fight with the puck, win some more battles."
All that bonding and skating during the six-day break had little bearing on how this game unfolded through the first two periods, which ended with the teams tied, 1-1, thanks to a couple of goofy goals.
Midway through the first period, Read turned a blue-line mistake by Rangers center Derick Brassard into a breakaway on rookie goalie Cam Talbot, who was making his NHL debut. Read slid the puck between Talbot's legs and the Flyers had a 1-0 lead. It didn't last the period, although Mason was blameless for the goal that tied the game with a little more than a minute remaining.
Rangers center Brad Richards simply lifted the puck toward the net from an impossible goal-scoring angle, but it hit off Coburn's right skate and landed in the back of the net. The Flyers also had two scoring chances that hit the post, one by Timonen and another by defenseman Luke Schenn.
Bad luck? Perhaps, but good teams find a way to overcome injuries and misfortune. Bad teams wilt under pressure. The Flyers still have a long way to go to prove they are not the latter.