Despite less-than-energetic first periods, the Flyers have done an admirable job collecting points this season and climbing into a playoff spot.
That said, there have been too many slow starts. Too many times where they have fallen behind and chased the game.
It happened again Tuesday in a 5-4 shootout loss in Detroit.
The Flyers were outplayed, outshot, and outworked in the first period — against a going-nowhere team that had lost 10 straight — and fortunate to be in a scoreless tie after 20 minutes.
They have led after the opening period just 14 times in 74 games.
“That’s something we’re not happy with,” said rookie defenseman Robert Hagg, one of eight players on the ice for an optional practice Wednesday in Voorhees. “We need to be more prepared going into the games.”
In the loss to the lowly Red Wings, the Flyers fell into a 3-1 hole heading into the third period.
“Maybe we thought it was going to be an easy game and we didn’t play the right way, didn’t play hard,” center Sean Couturier, who scored his 30th goal of the season and 100th of his career, said after the defeat. “We wasted 40 minutes. We came back and got a big point, but we can’t be wasting time at this time of the year.”
“It gets harder and harder at this time of year to catch up,” coach Dave Hakstol said Wednesday, referring to the Flyers’ habit of falling behind in games. “A first period like last night, where it was just OK, isn’t good enough at this time of year. That’s an area where we have to grow and mature and do it quick, because there aren’t a lot of opportunities left.”
The Flyers have eight games remaining, starting with Thursday’s meeting against the visiting New York Rangers.
Couturier said “each individual just has to prepare themselves, maybe a little better. Try to be ready from the start. Just focus on yourself and what you have to do to help the team.”
On Thursday, the Flyers will face another team out of playoff contention.
“It’s more up to us. It doesn’t matter how they play,” said Hagg, whose team is 1-1 against the Rangers, including a 7-4 victory Feb. 18 in their most recent meeting. “We need to bounce back. That game [Tuesday] wasn’t good enough at all from anyone. We need to be prepared, especially for the start of the game.”
Rookies are expected to be in the nets for each team. Alex Lyon (3-2-1, 2.42 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) figures to get the start for the Flyers, and he will oppose Bulgarian-born Alexandar Georgiev, who is 3-2-1 with a 2.94 GAA and a .922 save percentage.
In last month’s win at Madison Square Garden, Lyon stopped 25 of 26 Rangers shots in relief and recorded his first NHL victory. He played well Tuesday after relieving the struggling Petr Mrazek, stopping 11 of 12 shots and helping the Flyers salvage a point.
“He’s shown a real good level of ability to be performance-ready, whether it’s in a start or coming off the bench, which isn’t always the easiest scenario,” Hakstol said. “He’s given us a chance each time to get back into a game.”
Conversely, the recently acquired Mrazek has dipped dramatically. After winning his first three starts with the Flyers, he has just two victories in his last nine appearances. He has a 3.27 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage in 12 games with the Flyers, and those numbers are considerably weaker than his career numbers (2.60 GAA, .912 save percentage) with Detroit.
“He’s made a lot of good saves, but at this time of year, it’s about looking for that one extra save somewhere that can make a difference,” Hakstol said.
The Flyers have slipped into the top wild-card spot. They are five points out of first place, and five points ahead of surging Florida, which has three games in hand and is trying to get into the second and final wild-card position.
“We remain in a good spot, but everything is tight and every single point is at a premium,” Hakstol said. “We earned a point in the third period [Tuesday], but I think we clearly have to know we let a point slip away in the first half of that hockey game.”
It’s a familiar refrain, and the poor starts need to end if the Flyers are going to be taken seriously in the playoffs — if they get there.