Flyers suffer big letdown in loss to Panthers

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Flyers suffer big letdown in loss to Panthers

BOX SCORE

You sensed this would happen. Past history suggested it was a real possibility.

The Flyers had played an emotional, leave-it-all-on-the-ice game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won in the final 1:31 when every player was spent.

Return home to Wells Fargo Center for Thursday’s back end of a back-to-back against the struggling Florida Panthers.

And …

“We all knew it was going to be a challenge,” Mike Knuble said. “And quite frankly, in the first 5-6 minutes, it was obvious we weren’t up for it and it cost us the game.”

It wasn’t so much the Flyers weren’t skating. It was a series of turnovers and sloppy defensive play that killed them in the opening period of a 5-2 spanking.

“I don’t usually make excuses; I’m usually straight-forward,” Kimmo Timonen said. “You saw a tired Flyers team today.

“Coming back from six-game road trip and play a really hard-charged game yesterday, get back at 2 a.m. We were tired.”

Before the game, coach Peter Laviolette addressed the letdown scenario with his team.

“We talked about positive things as opposed to negative things,” Laviolette said. “It’s a big game for our team. We want to make this game mean something. It’s an opportunity to get back to a starting point.

“We’ve been sub par the entire season so far and I think the guys recognize that. It’s been a … very tough ride with regard to a lot of things. Tonight is a chance to get back and take a quick breath.”

So much was riding on this. The first of five straight home games against lesser Eastern Conference opponents when the Flyers could fatten up on points get themselves into playoff position.

They could have reached .500 with this one win.

Gone. They are now 4-8 in back-to-backs and 2-4 in the second game.

“It is what it is, the schedule and games last night was hard fought and we came back. You want to prepare and put yourselves in position to win a hockey game,” Laviolette said.

“It was an important game tonight. It was evident in the first 10 minutes we weren’t as sharp, weren’t as crisp at last night … We didn’t make a lot of mistakes but the ones we made were point blank.”

Ilya Bryzgalov was very mediocre, giving up four goals on just 15 shots. He was yanked for Brian Boucher in the second period.

Take away a couple turnovers and the Flyers trail 1-0 after the first intermission instead of 3-0.

“It’s a frustrating one, a tough one to lose after all the effort we put in yesterday, all the battling we did, everything we fought for yesterday,” Danny Briere said.

“To come out today and have a game like this, we talked about coming out strong and playing hard.

“It was mental mistakes that did us in. We were trying to play hard … It’s mental mistakes that cost us. The first three chances to score, they scored.”

Florida’s first two goals were 29 seconds apart. Peter Mueller, working hard to get open in the slot, measured Bryzgalov and beat him at 8:15.

On the next goal, the Flyers botched an attempted pass through the neutral zone and it was picked off by Mike Weaver, who quickly fed Tomas Kopecky for a snap wrister to make it 2-0.

Laviolette immediately called his timeout. That trick worked in Pittsburgh -- as it often does. Not this time.

Barely two minutes later, Luke Schenn’s point shot was blocked by Panther rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, who raced up the ice so quickly that Timonen had no choice but to haul him down.

Penalty shot. Good call.

You know how Bryzgalov handles shootouts. Penalty shots -- same thing. Huberdeau came down the slot slowly, turned his body to the right, then backhanded the puck through the five-hole. Easily.

It was 3-0 and the Flyers were cooked.

“I’ve seen this happen a million times in my life,” Timonen said. “You’re coming back from a road trip, the hardest game is the next home game. It proves it’s mentally tough. We had a bad sleep last night.

“When you are mentally tired, you are not 100 percent into the game. You make easy mental mistakes and usually those things end up in the back of your net.”

Harry Zolnierczyk nearly got one back near the end of the period. Early in the second period, Sean Couturier had a partial breakaway and slid a backhander wide of the open side. Could have been 3-2 “if” they score.

Before the second period ended, Huberdeau tipped one past Bryzgalov. He leads the Panthers with eight goals (five in five games). That brought Boucher into the game.

“He’s very skilled, very slick,” Briere said of Huberdeau. “Offensively, he’s a very dangerous players. Pretty impressive for his first year in the league. I thought he showed a lot of poise with the puck.”

The lone bright spot? Jakub Voracek picked up another goal late in the final period on a wrap around. He has seven goals and a team-high 19 points.

“We have to learn from this -- every game matters. We’re not 10-0,” Timonen said. “Every game matters and we’re fighting for a playoff spot. These games matter.”

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers (15-10-3) vs. Oilers (14-10-4)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The hottest team in the NHL will meet the hottest young star on Thursday night when the Flyers host the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. McDavid and Co.
The Flyers are going for their seventh consecutive victory, which would tie their longest winning streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when they also won seven in a row.

In order to do so, they’ll have to slow down transcendent talent Connor McDavid and the prolific but streaky Oilers.

McDavid, a generational player, has thus far lived up to all the hype surrounding him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. In just his second NHL season — and first with a healthy start after an injured-shortened rookie year (45 games) — the 19-year-old leads all of hockey in points with 36, while no other player has yet to eclipse 30.

His 25 assists also rank atop the NHL, while his 11 goals are among the top 22 and his plus-8 rating is tied for ninth best between all centers.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said Wednesday. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice.”

And he has help.

Linemates Leon Draisaitl (11 goals, 11 assists) and Milan Lucic (eight goals, 12 assists) can do damage, as can Jordan Eberle (eight goals, 13 assists).

2. Defense wins games
The Flyers are playing better and cleaner in front of their goaltender — who has been great (see below) — and the results are showing.

The orange and black have gone five straight games of allowing two or fewer goals.

Why were they so up and down before this run? Well, they had surrendered two or fewer goals in just five of their previous 23 games.

“That’s unbelievable for us,” Wayne Simmonds said after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. “At the beginning of the year, to say we’d have five straight without giving up more than two would be a stretch.

“We’ve locked it down defensively and Mase has played unbelievable. We’ve been pretty good as five-man units.”

3. Mase the man
A confident Steve Mason is a dangerous Steve Mason.

Right now, Mason has the net and is gaining steam by the game.

Over his past five outings, the 28-year-old is 5-0-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Just as impressive, since Nov. 12, Mason is 8-3-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey,” Mason said Tuesday. “This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever [head coach Dave Hakstol] calls my name, be ready."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: You always have to watch Simmonds, but especially now with the winger coming off back-to-back two-goal games. Simmonds leads the NHL with eight power-play goals and is second in man-advantage points (13) to only teammate Claude Giroux (14).

Oilers: With all the attention zeroed in on McDavid, we’ll go with the 21-year-old Draisaitl, who has seven goals in his last nine games and 14 points in his past 12. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 is an intelligent playmaker capable of hurting you.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-4-0 with just a 3.49 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in 13 career games against Edmonton.

• Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson will make his fourth start of the season. He’s 1-1-1 on the year with 84 saves on 91 shots faced, but is 0-4-1 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.57 goals-against average and .865 save percentage.

• The Flyers are fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.11), while Edmonton is seventh (2.93).

• The Oilers have lost 10 of their last 15 games (5-7-3).

Flyers skate update: Wayne Simmonds, power play key to beating Oilers

Flyers skate update: Wayne Simmonds, power play key to beating Oilers

Todd McLellan saw a lot of Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov as a junior player in the Western Hockey League whenever the Brandon Wheat Kings would turn up in Edmonton.

“I watched him play in junior and had a chance to see that Brandon team play in Edmonton twice last year,” said the Edmonton Oilers coach.

“Obviously, a smooth, confident [player] with great vision. He has patience with the puck. Those are his offensive assets. 

“But he also positions himself well, defensively. He accepts that responsibility. For a young d-man, he is ahead of a lot of others because he can play on both sides of the puck.”

Provorov rattled Jaromir Jagr Tuesday when Florida was here (see story). Tonight he gets his first NHL taste of Connor McDavid.

McLellan said the Oilers' biggest challenge against the Flyers will be stopping the NHL’s second-ranked power play. Edmonton has the 11th best penalty kill.

His concern is Wayne Simmonds (8 power play goals) and Claude Giroux (14 power play points). 

“That power play is deadly and it really hasn’t changed — it’s just clicking,” McLellan said. “It has a couple trigger points. Obviously, Simmonds has the most goals in the league  and Giroux has the most points. But there’s other pieces to that power play, which are exceptional. 

“Our penalty kill has been taking it on the chin and I had to ask our guys today, 'Is it the penalty kill or the penalties?' In my opinion, it’s as much the penalties as the penalty kill. We have to stay out of the box.  

“This is a confident Flyers team. They feel very good in the offensive zone and make things happen. Their goaltender [Steve Mason] has been making saves for them that keeps them confident going the other way. It’s a team on the rise.”

The Streak
The Flyers are looking to make it seven straight wins tonight against the Oilers. The last time they won seven in arrow was Dec. 2-15 in 2011. They did not have a morning skate.

On Mason
Tuesday’s win against Florida was Steve Mason’s 88th as a Flyer, moving him past Pelle Lindbergh into sixth in franchise history. Mason needs six wins to move into third place in franchise history. 

Debut
Defenseman Dillon Simpson will make his Oilers debut tonight in Philadelphia. He is the son of former Oiler Craig Simpson. 

The oddity? Last year, Keegan Lowe made his Oilers' debut here in Philadelphia. He is the son of Kevin Lowe, longtime coach and front office executive for the Oilers. 

Colors
The Oilers wear three colors during their morning skate. Their defensemen dress in orange; their third and fourth lines dress in white and their top six skaters dress in blue. Now that’s an NHL hierarchy.