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Greenberg: Why this isn't last year

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

You must have a short memory, said Luke Schenn, after a couple of luckless nights cast as a pinball pylon. Indeed, with Braydon Coburn out for more than day-to-day, the fans may quickly forget the reasons they rarely have cut the big guy a break.

Absence should make their hearts grow fonder. Coburn is not the punishing hitter they think his six-foot-five inches demands and hardly a gifted creator who can get his mistakes back on the very next shift. He only is a solid one-on-one defender who last year averaged a team-high 22:26 and 29 shifts per game, most of them against the opposition’s top forward line.


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If you want to give the credit to Coburn’s partner, Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers don’t have him either, which is not exactly what they were looking for in trying not to create an early hole for themselves for the first time in four seasons.

What so far separates this 0-2 so far from last year’s 0-2 on the way to 1-7 is Thursday night’s rally from a 3-0 deficit. To start 2013-14, the Flyers were utterly lifeless, this year, as flutterballs through screens drop for easy shove-ins in the final two minutes, and consecutive carom shots put them down 3-0, they have been more luckless.

Still, after running off three goals in the final 4:14 of the third period, the Flyers lost to New Jersey, 6-4 Thursday night because they were failed by the survival skills necessary to go forward successfully without one whole defensive pair.

Just when the Flyers had everything going their way, Claude Giroux lost Patrik Elias behind him for a slam dunk and Jake Voracek took the wrong guy following not the best percentage pinch by Mark Streit, enabling Dainius Zubrus to close in and beat Steve Mason on a two-on-one to the short side.

“That’s a save I have to make at that point of the game,” said Steve Mason. He would have had an improved chance of doing so if the Flyers had better circled their wagons.

They aren’t going to thrive without Coburn by calling up an inexperienced Shayne Gostisbehere or by Streit and Nick Grossmann, the best pair standing, turning suddenly into Serge Savard and Larry Robinson. The Flyers surviving defensemen need more help from the forwards than they received Thursday night when suddenly, despite it all, this became a winnable game.

“In the third period the D got caught pinching a couple times,” said Craig Berube. “We actually had a forward back and still ended up giving up a couple of odd man rushes.

“Those two bothered me. We did a lot of good things but we lost the game so obviously we have to do better.”

The good news? After missing much of camp for a second straight year, Giroux, who ignited the Flyer rally with a power play goal, will not need eight games to get his first goal this time. Wayne Simmonds, who was absent the last week of the preseason, scored twice, beating Cory Schneider to the glove side after a nifty fake of a one-timer, then the second-period buzzer in a 56-second span.

It was such an inspired rally that it was a terrible shame to waste it. The Flyers put in too much hard work in coming back twice to let this game get away, but they did and will again, if defense doesn’t become a 5-man operation. With a shortage of fast feet on this blueline, everyone has to think more quickly.

“Zone entries are too easy and that starts with the defensemen obviously,” said Schenn. “You [allow] those clean zone entries, a lot of stuff can go bad.”

The Flyers will get luckier but only if they first get better.

“I have had games like this where things don’t go your way, but to this extent?” said Schenn, a minus-five. “It’s a tough one to swallow but the worst thing you can do is get frustrated.”

The best thing the Flyers can do is better read off each other. Schenn played his best last year with Andrew MacDonald, so perhaps that’s Berube’s next move. But in Coburn’s absence, it is not just the D that has to step up.

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