PHILADELPHIA – The Flyers have made a living this season on being a third period team.
Which is why they were perplexed as to why their game faltered in the third period of a 2-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday.
Yes, it was the second straight game in which they were shutout – and that’s also perplexing – but if you segment the game out, the loss boils down to the first poor third period the Flyers have played in quite some time – probably since a 6-1 loss at home to Boston back on Jan. 25.
The first period was pretty evenly played. The Flyers seemed to control possession even though the shots ended up being close, with the Flyers holding a 10-9 edge.
The second period was all Flyers until Sean Couturier was whistled for a slashing penalty and the usually stout Flyers penalty kill got caught chasing the Blue Jackets with their best killer in the box and despite a few nice stops by goalie Steve Mason, Columbus was able to break the 0-0 deadlock on a stuffer from the side of the net by defenseman James Wisniewski.
It was from that point forward, that the Flyers fizzled. Normally willing to stare down a one goal deficit and challenge it, the Flyers were ambushed by a hard-charging Columbus squad who padded the lead 3:20 into the third period when a shot by Cam Atkinson caromed off of Brandon Dubinsky’s skate and past Mason for 2-0.
The Flyers were deflated from there.
|Steve Mason made 25 saves, but he would have needed to be perfect for the Flyers to move closer to a playoff berth. Instead, they lost 2-0 and saw things tighten up around them in the Metropolitan Division. |
“We came out flat,” said Scott Hartnell, who led the Flyers with eight shots on goal. “We let them come in our zone too easily and just let them move the puck around way too easily. The first two periods, I thought we battled. We were strong on pucks and everything. Then in the third period, I don’t know if it was that power play goal they scored late or what it was, but to come out in the third period that flat, that was not our M.O. and it hasn’t been our M.O. all year.”
It hasn’t. The Flyers are always a tenacious team in the third period and yet – for one night – that voracity was completely absent.
The players would never admit it, but sometimes, when you grow so accustomed to playing so well in the face of adversity, you just assume the needed focus and energy is going to be there.
On this night, it wasn’t.
“We did a lot of good things in the second,” said captain Claude Giroux. “We got impatient and started doing other things because it wasn’t going in but I wish we just kept playing the same way and keep forcing their team. But we kind of changed our game plan here.”
It wasn’t a good game plan either. The breakouts were substandard. The traffic in front of Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was minimal. And the usually excellent special teams came up empty. Not only did the PK give up a goal for just the third time in a month, but the power play was 0-for-4 without so much as any real sustained pressure with the man advantage.
“The power play has to step it up,” said Wayne Simmonds. “Special teams are going to be key – penalty kill and power play – and our power play hasn’t been the best the last few games.”
However, while recognizing their struggles, Simmonds also is confident that the power play will right itself – and soon.
“If we weren’t getting chances I’d be more concerned,” he said.
Games like this happen. The Blue Jackets are fighting for their playoff lives and while the Flyers technically are too, they had a little bit more breathing room. So the sense of urgency, while it should have matched the Jackets, didn’t.
Now the Flyers, whose magic number remained at six, have six games left starting in Boston Saturday, and are going to need to find themselves quickly to get back on the winning track in time for the playoffs.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers