After a disappointing February particularly on home ice the Flyers were able to press a reset button at the Wells Fargo Center for the beginning of March, just as their coach had hoped.
There are 15 games left to play this month (nine at home), but the Flyers got off on the right foot Thursday night. It wasnt a perfect effort and it wasnt without its losses, as forward James van Riemsdyk suffered a broken left foot (see story), but the Flyers came alive and defeated the New York Islanders, 6-3.
Unlike last game in San Jose, Ilya Bryzgalov successfully stopped the first shot of the game. But just like the Flyers did in San Jose and Calgary and Edmonton before it they were flat again early, digging themselves in yet another early-game hole.
We didn't play very well at home, plus came back from the road, a long road trip, traveled a lot yesterday, Jaromir Jagr said. The first period of the first game is always tough. I knew it from my experience, it's always the toughest game to play.
The crowd may have exhaled a bit when Bryzgalov made that first save, but whatever sense of relief it created didnt last long. Just moments later, on only the second shot of the game, Bryzgalov came up short against Islanders center Josh Bailey, who seemed to have been given a free pass to skate in on him with the puck.
Both Flyers defensemen on ice Andrej Meszaros and Nick Grossman failed to clear Bailey from in front of their goaltender, and Bailey stuffed the puck past Bryzgalov for an early 1-0 Islanders lead.
It was the ninth game in a row in which the Flyers gave up the first goal.
And things got worse before they got better. The Flyers looked discombobulated in the minutes following the goal, unable to put together an organized breakout from their zone. They were so off-kilter early on, coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout less than four minutes in to the first period.
Our starts have been absolutely horrible, Scott Hartnell said. It seems that were giving too much early and it takes us 10 minutes to get into the game. His point was pretty clear. If youre not playing, youre not going to play. No one wants that, five minutes into the first period, into the game, that you wont get back out there.
Laviolette said his message, primarily, was that attitudes needed to change. And once the attitudes changed, he said, he felt the Flyers were able to regain control of their game.
We were a little flat in the first five minutes, I thought, he said. Just changed the direction of our attitude and the way we were playing the game, started moving it through the neutral zone and down into their end. Whenever we got it deep, it felt like wed be able to cycle the puck and generate offense that way. And I think we eventually got to that, even more so as the game went on.
A clearly irate Laviolette must have gotten through. Though Jagr joked Laviolette was positive and nice, even from the press box, the coachs rage was palpable. But after that timeout, the Flyers began to create a bit of pressure on Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov, successfully knotting the game at 1 when Matt Read redirected a shot from the point taken by Andrej Meszaros.
The Flyers capitalized again as the final minute of the opening period ticked down, this time on a power play resulting from a holding minor to Mark Streit. Meszaros again shot from the point, the puck dinging off the post and then off Nabokov before sliding across the goal line to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
They carried the lead into the second period, but it didnt last long. Bryzgalov may have stopped the first shot of the game, but he wasnt able to contain the first shot of the second period. Bailey was able to score once again, this time when Grossman left his feet, clearing a path in the slot in front of Bryzgalov.
They're a good team even though they're fighting for their playoff spot and playoff lives, Hartnell said. We need to have a good effort here at home. We had an OK trip on the road there, .500, and we want to come in with a big effort. Get a win in front of our fans obviously weve got to sharpen up at home and tonight was a big test for us.
Having tightened up defensively in the middle stanza, the Flyers fought hard to get it back. Jagr gained control of the puck and skated it behind the Islanders net, then whipped a backhand that surprised Nabokov and Hartnell, who was providing the screen. Read, scoring his second of the night, added on to it just seconds later to bring the Flyers lead to 4-2.
It was a little struggle there for the last month, Read said. I just know Ive got to work hard, keep working hard and things are going to start going my way. Two good plays by Mez (Meszaros) and Simmer (Wayne Simmonds) tonight.
Hartnell added to the Flyers lead at the start of the third period, slamming home a rebound in the slot to give his team a 5-2 lead. That goal, his 31st of the season, leads the Flyers and sets a new career high for him.
Bryzgalov cant and shouldnt be faulted for his performance on Thursday. Like the skaters in front of him, he wasnt perfect. And though he gave up a goal to Islanders winger Kyle Okposo with about 10 minutes left to play, he followed it up with a pair of impressive saves to keep the Flyers 5-3 lead intact. He looked strong and in control for the majority of the night.
With the victory all but officially sealed, Sean Couturier added an empty-net goal in the final minute of play to set the score at 6-3, pushing the last time time the Islanders played in Philadelphia (see story), even further from the teams collective mind.
It is a very nice and important two points for the standings, Bryzgalov said. Especially the last couple of games against the Islanders were tough. It wasn't that much easier tonight, but the team put in a very good effort and I think we deserved the win.