The Flyers' rough second period proved costly
For the Flyers, playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins is always an opportunity to get a real sense of how they stack up to one of the NHL’s best teams.
And after Thursday’s 4-1 loss, the verdict is in: Never mind their 1-7 record. The Flyers can hang with the Penguins, the team that lays claim to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
They just can’t compete for a full 60 minutes -- and therein lies the problem.
“It’s tough to win games when we played one period like we can,” Max Talbot said. “I think in the third, that’s the type of hockey we want to play. First and second, especially the second period, I really think we didn’t show up.”
After 40 minutes, the Flyers trailed in shots, 29-13. They had incurred four avoidable penalties. They struggled to so much as break out of their own zone, getting caught flat-footed and failing to get much of anything generated offensively.
Had goaltender Steve Mason not put in yet another stellar performance, well, we could be talking about a total blowout in the second period alone. Remarkably, the Flyers entered the third period trailing only 2-1.
They were lucky.
“My opinion, and I think everybody else’s opinion, was [it was] terrible hockey,” Mason said. “You’re not going to win hockey games like that. I thought the guys came out with a lot more emotion in the third period, and that’s the way we need to play. If we can start playing like that, we’ll be more successful than we are.”
For days, head coach Craig Berube has commented on the Flyers’ progress. He’s made note of the small improvements from one game to the next. Even in the team’s last two games, the losses to Detroit and Vancouver, Berube was clear that there were positive takeaways. Their five-on-five play was improving, he said. They were moving their feet better, he said.
So what was the Flyers’ problem against the Penguins, then?
“They stopped playing,” Berube said. “They were standing around watching them play.”
The Flyers fell victim to yet another slow start Thursday night, trailing early in shots, 8-1, and taking two penalties in the first six minutes of play. But they were able to put together a few chances, and where they failed, Mason stood tall.
After 20 minutes, they held tightly to a 0-0 tie. It was after then that, for whatever reason, things truly imploded.
For a Flyers team that now officially owns the worst start in franchise history, it’s no surprise the players are starting to get irritated.
“Obviously, guys are frustrated,” Brayden Schenn said. “You want to win hockey games. But the same time, we have five or six days off here to regroup and look forward to a new start, new challenges ahead, if we can.
“Look at our record -- obviously now we’ve got to look forward, have a good week of practice here, and just be better after the break.”
The good news, perhaps, is that the Flyers really did ramp up their energy in the third period. They might not have scored, and they did give up two goals (one an empty-netter), but they looked like a team working in sync.
In the third period alone, the Flyers almost doubled their shot total to 25 sent in on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. They were far more disciplined, and actually had a few very good chances on the two power plays they were awarded.
“We’ve got to play like that for 60 minutes,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We need to start being more desperate. It’s just not good enough.
The Flyers will not have a chance to attempt a complete game until next Thursday when they host the New York Rangers. Until then, they’ll have a full six days to skate hard and work to correct the obvious mistakes they’ve made thus far -- and, as Simmonds notes, work on their desperation level.
What they won’t do, however, is dwell on their 1-7 start.
“We all know what our record is,” Schenn said. “There’s no sense in dwelling on it. You might as well try to look forward, look at good things ahead, and not worry about our record right now.”