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A Funny Game

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com / Philadelphia Flyers
For all the game-planning and skill that goes into the game of hockey, there’s a pretty big element of luck involved as well. Goals are scored all the time when a shot hits someone in front and drops right onto the stick of a player, or goes in off a defenseman’s rear end. Sometimes that luck well runs dry, and that has a lot to do with what happened to the Flyers in their loss to Edmonton on Thursday night.


From Edmonton’s perspective, the Oilers had a first period that was one of their best periods of the season according to those who have been following the team all year. The Flyers actually started quelling that hot start with about four minutes left in the first, but from their perspective, Thursday’s game featured 83 shot attempts by the Flyers where none of the rebounds fell within the reach of a friendly stick or bounced in the right direction. Three of them beat Cam Talbot but hit posts; another couple pucks that weren’t even considered shots found their way behind Talbot, but slid harmlessly through the crease because nobody in orange was within reach.

Meanwhile, when the Oilers attacked, rebounds went their way. Connor McDavid’s shot rebounded right to Nail Yakupov in the first, and Patrick Maroon’s initial attempt in the second bounced right back to him for his goal. As the game wore on, frustration settled in, and the result was a third period where the Flyers didn’t execute well because they were ultimately pressing too hard to try to make something happen.

“You can’t talk frustration out of that game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said after Friday’s optional practice in Voorhees. “We let a team get some life in the first period. That’s on us. If you go back and take a look at the second period, we gave up a couple opportunities but there’s not a whole lot more we can do as a team and not score a goal. You’re going to have nights like that.”

Luck disappears at least a few times a year, but in terms of the power play, it’s been a long time since the Flyers had a night like that. The last time they went scoreless with seven or more power play attempts at home was more than six years ago, on December 21, 2009, when they were 0-for-7 in a 4-1 loss to Florida. That was a frustrated team as well, but incredibly so; one that had high expectations at the start of the season but had stumbled out of the gate, had already changed coaches and still had nothing going right.

That Flyers team flew to Tampa after that game and promptly had practice cancelled the next day by a sewer leak in the building. The players were sent back to the hotel to relax and reset, many of them resigned to laughing at just one more misfortune in what had been a season full of them. The next night against the Lightning was the first of eight victories over a 10-game stretch that started the team’s run back to playoff contention, and eventually to the Stanley Cup Final. Along with the luck factor, that’s another oddity about this game – a team’s momentum and fortunes can sometimes seemingly change overnight, when the right attitude and work ethic is in place.

“You can’t dwell on those things,” MacDonald said. “You have to just keep grinding away and maintain your tight defensive play and try not to give up too much, especially in those games. Because the way it’s going in those types of games, you give up a chance and they’re going to score on it most likely. The main thing is we probably deserved a bit of a better fate, but that being said, it’s certainly no excuse for giving up four and not scoring any. But I don’t think it was a 4-0 game.”

Indeed, there have been other nights where the Flyers had a better performance than the score showed. One was their last loss before yesterday, the Feb. 23 game at Carolina, and the team recovered with three straight wins. Hakstol is hoping for a similar response Saturday.

“We’ve got to be a little more complete,” he said. “When we came out of the Carolina game, I felt like we played a full 60 minutes and there’s not much more we could do. Last night, we left a little bit on the table. So we’ve got to make sure we get off to a solid start tomorrow, and try to affect every shift and try to push the game our way tomorrow.”

SCHENN A QUESTION MARK
Hakstol said Brayden Schenn would be a gameday decision for the lineup against Columbus. He didn’t play the last six minutes of Thursday’s game, and general manager Ron Hextall said he didn’t have enough information yet to qualify Schenn’s availability for Saturday.

Puck drop against the Blue Jackets is 7 PM on Comcast SportsNet and 97.5 The Fanatic. 

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