Coming into Wednesday night's game, being the eternal optimist that I am, I was confident. The playoffs are a new season and the Flyers were going to put all that lackluster play behind them. They were going to play a solid 60 minutes of Flyer hockey and it was going to result in a big time win -- a shock to the hockey world, even.
And now, just a few hours after the conclusion of Game One, I'm embarassed. I feel nieve for having confidence in this team to snap out of their lifeless trance, but most of all, I'm just flat out embarrased as a fan of this team for the performance they put on tonight.
They turned the puck over at will -- 13 times, if you want to put a number on it, didn't really create anything that could be called a forecheck, and yet again, took those terrible, momentum killing penalties. When you play like that, you're never going to get bounces in your favor. A handful of shots off the post and several unlucky goals proved the Flyers weren't going to get any favors tonight. You get what you deserve, and quite honestly, they played like a team that simply isn't deserving of playoff hockey. As Ben Feldman wrote in a FanPost, this has become a pattern.
... it seemed like by the end of the season, Flyers games had a script. Give up the first goal, try and come back in the second period, then stop playing in the third and hope the other team doesn't capitalize on whatever progress we made in the second.
They did this against the Islanders, against the Leafs (twice), against the Islanders again, and of course, against the Rangers.
This attitude went from virtually never being shown, to rarely being shown, to often being shown, and after Game 1, to always being shown.
The Flyers may have the deepest offensive threat in the league, but if the team doesn't even want to play, who cares? If this is how the rest of the series is going to go, hell, the Flyers may as well have not been in the playoffs.
We know that the Flyers are worthy of being here. They have shown us over the course of this season that they can even be a team worthy of winning the Stanley Cup. When the offense is clicking, the penalties are at a minimum, and the goaltending is good enough, this team can hang with anybody. Unfortunately, tonight's effort came nowhere near that.
So, what do the Flyers need to do to rebound?
First off, the penalties have to stop. When you're giving the Penguins nine power play opportunites, it becomes a snowball of momentum that you cannot stop. It doesn't matter that the PK actually did a decent job in holding Pitt to just one PP goal. When you're the Penguins, spending that much time on the power play, the momentum builds and carries over to even strength time. On the flip side for the Flyers, you've got your best players out on the PK, and as John Stevens has said a million times this season, that's too "taxing on your key guys."
On the bright side tonight, Martin Biron actually played a decent enough game. He was not great, but he was not the reason Philadelphia lost. Three of the four goals were pretty flukey and can't be blamed on him. A great performance from Biron could've turned the momentum in the Flyers favor and maybe we would be talking about a different outcome right now, but to ask that of your goaltender is unfair. I thought Biron played good enough to allow his team to win, and honestly, that's all we can and should expect from a goaltender.
You've got to give credit where it is due, though. The Penguins were absoultely suffocating on defense. They gave Philly no room for error and shut down the Flyers very effectively. On offense, their best line was their third -- especially Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy. The Flyers have to find a way to slow them down in game two.
But more than anything, the Flyers need to get back to square one. Play aggressive, but smart. If the penalties can come down a bit, especially the lazy stick infractions like hooking and slashing (looking at you, Scott Hartnell) that come as a result of desperation, the Flyers potent offense will begin to get their chances.
Everything can turn around from that point. The Pens will have less momentum all across their lineup and less chance to control the hockey game The Flyers can then start to slow down the pace a bit and play their game and from there, the bounces will begin to turn sides. That's what they did to beat Pittsburgh in March and that's what they're going to need to do in game two and beyond.