Ten random observations from the Flyers’ 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (see Instant Replay).
Let’s start at the beginning.
1. The Flyers were guilty of slow starts last year, and even under new head coach Craig Berube, it’s been a tough habit to shake this season. They escaped the first period with a 0-0 tie, sure, but consider this: They trailed in shots 8-1 at one point Thursday night. They lost 12 of their first 14 faceoffs. They took two bad -- really, really bad -- penalties in the game’s first six minutes. Never mind the power-play struggles, or the top players’ slumps. You get caught flat-footed early, you miss opportunities and you don’t win games.
2. The Flyers know they’ve had trouble staying disciplined this season. They know games against the Penguins have a history of getting out of hand. And they certainly know the Pens have a very dangerous power-play unit. So what happened to the plan to stay disciplined -- especially early? They were very, very lucky to have Steve Mason in net. Without him, they could have dug themselves into an early ugly hole. In total, the Flyers incurred five penalties.
3. Someone on Twitter who may or may not share an alma mater with yours truly thought it fitting to create a “Did the Flyers Score on the Power Play Yet?” Twitter account ahead of Thursday’s game. Thankfully, it was short-lived (for now), as the team snapped an 0-for-18 stretch on the man advantage. It should be noted, though, they were just 1 for 4 on the power play.
4. What happened to all those “steps forward” Berube and his players kept referencing this week? What happened to the supposedly improved five-on-five play? Simply put, the Flyers looked impotent through too much of Thursday’s game. They were hardly able to break out of their own zone, let alone create pressure on Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, through its first 35 minutes. Even when they weren’t on the penalty kill, they were stretched thin in their own zone for minutes at a time.
5. Can we talk about the Sidney Crosby factor for just a second? I don’t even mean on the ice. I’m talking about booing every time he touches the puck, or chanting “CROS-BY SUCKS” during stoppages of play. I get it -- we’re Philadelphians! We hate the Penguins! But like it or not, Crosby is one of the best hockey players in the world. Booing him isn’t going to make him any less dangerous.
6. Goalie coach Jeff Reese was very confident, when the Flyers acquired Mason last season, that he’d be able to coach the young netminder back to his former self -- Mason, of course, was a Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year in 2008-09. So far, Reese is looking like he was onto something. Mason, once again, was very strong Thursday night, remaining composed through heavy Penguins pressure. The game was his sixth start of the season, and he’s looked consistently competent through each of them. He was left out to dry by his teammates at times against the Pens, of course -- heading into the final period, the Flyers trailed in shots by a staggering 29-13.
7. Speaking of goalies (aren’t we always?) it sure seems like the Flyers’ “goaltender situation” has figured itself out, doesn’t it? Mason has started six of of the team’s eight games so far in 2013-14, and despite his 1-5 record, he’s been very strong. Simply put: Might it be a while before we see Ray Emery suit up in net again?
8. Did anyone notice that stretch of more than 13 minutes during which the Penguins didn’t have a shot on net? No? Well, there was such a stretch, beginning in the second period and lasting well into the final stanza. Ordinarily, we’d all be talking about it -- but mired in what was otherwise a rough game for the Flyers, despite its close score, it seems to have flown under the radar.
9. Thursday morning, Berube said he wasn’t looking for a wild, undisciplined game like the Flyers-Penguins affairs of the recent past. I get it. But am I the only one disappointed we didn’t see a pond hockey-like, 7-6 game like those we’ve seen over the past few seasons? The hockey might be rough and unruly, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.
10. Where, oh where, is Claude Giroux? Another game is in the books, and the Flyers’ captain still has yet to score. On a team heavy with players who are best suited for second- and third-line play, the Flyers need Giroux to look like the player he was in 2011-12. They need him to set an example, and they sure as heck need the points he ought to be providing.