For the Flyers, the month of February is going to end how it started, in desperate need of a win and playing the Washington Capitals. The last time these two teams played, the Flyers were reeling off of a 2-5 start and had lost two games in row. Tonight, the Flyers find themselves coming off another putrid loss to Toronto and looking to finish what has been a very blasé month with a winning record. The Flyers are 7-6-1 in February, not a great month in a lockout shortened season and not the February rebound the team needed after struggling out of the gates.
Monday’s game at home against Toronto was a familiar story and started like too many games have this season, with the Flyers falling behind early. The Leafs got the lead at the end of the first on a Phil Kessel goal and had a two goal lead until the end of the second when Scott Hartnell got his first goal of the season to cut the lead to 2-1. The Leafs got their two goal advantage back on Mikhail Grabovski’s sixth goal of the season before Jakub Voracek cut the lead with a power play goal with just over eight minutes to play.
The power play goal by Voracek came on the first power play of two minor penalties given to former Flyer James van Riemsdyk. JVR got called initially for hooking and then committed another penalty while the Flyers held possession on the delayed call. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette put out the second power play unit after a quick goal by the first unit, inexplicably, and the opportunity to tie the game on second JVR minor was lost. It was a momentum shift after the second penalty was killed off and the Flyers were unable to get the equalizer.
The loss to Toronto was near carbon copy of every loss this season and a typical follow-up effort the team has given after winning the previous game. They showed a lack of discipline, the power struggled and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t play well. One game the talk is about how bright the future can be and the next there is talk of Laviolette’s future and who can be amnestied.
Tonight’s game was another must win situation, a chance to equal the record at 2-2 on the current home stand and get some momentum going into a crucial month of March. The Flyers are hanging just outside of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference but also have several games in hand on the teams they are battling with for playoff position.
The last thing this team needed was to fall behind so a big, fast start was crucial. The Capitals have been playing well and goalie Braden Holtby was coming off his second shutout of the season. Enter the captain. Claude Giroux took a pass from Hartnell that ricocheted off Karl Alzner’s skate and buried the shot just 23 seconds into the game, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Just under four minutes later, Wayne Simmonds got a rebound off of a Scott Hartnell shot on the power play for his eight goal of the season, giving the Flyers a quick 2-0 lead they would take into the first intermission.
The Flyers came out strong in the second and found themselves on the power play early after a Joel Ward boarding penalty on Erik Gustafsson. At the end of the man advantage, newly acquired Flyer favorite Simon Gagne found himself on the doorstep thanks to a great pass by Brayden Schenn, giving the Flyers a 3-0 lead. The Flyers faithful in attendance gave Gagne a standing ovation when he was shown on the big screen in the first period and found themselves cheering his first regular season goal in Philly since March 28th, 2010. Gagne hadn’t scored in 11 games with the Kings this season but found himself right at home in the orange and black.
Maxime Talbot drilled a slap shot past and chased Capitals goalie Braden Holtby after the Flyers increased their lead to 4-0.
The Flyers held the lead in the third period with the only black mark being a late goal by the Capital’s Ward to break up Bryzgalov’s shutout. The Flyers also lost defenseman Erik Gustafsson tonight due to a lower body injury, an injury this team can ill afford to take on right now.
The 4-1 victory by the Flyers (10-11-1, 21 pts) is enormous for a team that cannot continue to lose games and points with the season quickly approaching the halfway point. The Capitals (7-11-1, 15 pts) were coming off a three games in four days stretch and the Flyers were able to exploit that tonight with a high energy effort.
The Flyers were two out of three on the power play and their penalty kill continues to improve, killing all four Capitals chances tonight.
Bryzgalov was strong tonight when he needed to be, especially early on some tricky saves in the first period.
Strong special teams, an early lead and quality goaltending have been the common themes in the Flyers victories this season. This team will find itself in a position to again build off a strong effort when they finish up this five game home stand on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. The schedule in early March is not as arduous as February and the Flyers will find themselves in plenty of divisional games that may provide the fuel to light the fire this team so desperately needs.Tags: Brayden Schenn, Claude Giroux, Ilya Bryzgalov, Maxime Talbot, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Simon Gagne, Washington Capitals, Wayne Simmonds