It was a very different kind of a shootout than the 9-8 horror show between the Philadelphia Flyers and Winnipeg Jets combined for in late-October, but when all was said and done it was yet another loss for the orange-and-black.
While it strayed from the formula of earlier in the year, it's a finish the Flyers should be accustomed to against the former-Atlanta Thrashers, a team they struggled with down the stretch last year. Tonight's 2-1 loss in the dreaded shootout followed a fairly similar pattern from last season of the Flyers grabbing a lead, only to cough it up and lose after regulation and overtime couldn't produce a victor.
After beating Atlanta handily in their first meeting of the 2010-11 campaign, Philly blew two late leads to lose in shootout
s (EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks to 'everybodyhitswoohoo' for refreshing my memory as to one of the late-season games actually being won by Atlanta in overtime and NOT the shootout. I have appropriately crossed out the 's' in 'shootouts'), then were shutout, 1-0, by Chris Mason. The Thrashers were a big reason why the Flyers lost their grip on the Eastern Conference lead to the Washington Capitals at season's end.
The Flyers have a woeful 0-3-3 record against the franchise in their last six meetings.
And now Philadelphia has played three consecutive shootout contests, dropping two and pulling one out. They are now 1-4 in the skills competition this season.
Tonight's game had its moments, but for the most part was one of those boring January games against a probable non-playoff, non-rival club.
It was a much better performance -- no, a MUCH BETTER performance -- by Ilya Bryzgalov over the now infamous 'lost in the woods' game. It appears the All-Star break has done the inconsistent goaltender a world of good, as he stopped 23 of 24 Winnipeg shots. The only shot that beat him (and went into the net) was an improbable perfect shot by Chris Thorburn, who hadn't scored a goal in an NHL game since March of 2011. There were a couple others that did get past the netminder but hit the goal post, including a Bryan Little shot high to the glove side that caught iron with just over a minute left in the third period. Bryzgalov was far better in the shootout against the Jets, stopping two of the three shooters after going 0-3 against the Boston Bruins on the Sunday before the break.
Jaromir Jagr returned after a two game absence with a nagging groin injury, and he was the Flyers' best skater. He made some incredible plays in the offensive zone, setting up early-game linemates Brayden Schenn and Matt Read with several incredible passes. While he earned a secondary assist on Schenn's first period power play goal, Jagr was a force at even strength. His one-timer off a beautiful Read feed beat Ondrej Pavelec, but rang off the post. The sheer magnitude of the shot rocked the Jets' cage almost off it's moorings.
A fitness freak within two weeks of his 40th birthday, Jagr actually got stronger as the game progressed. "I feel good," he said following the loss. "I was a little bit tired during the third period. I was playing a lot for a guy who didn't play for a long time. Every other shift I was on the ice for the last ten minutes."
Schenn scored a goal for a second consecutive game, as his play continues to develop.
While they were totally outplayed in giving up third period leads last season, but they carried play tonight in the third. They outshot the Jets by a 13-4 count, even though they didn't net a go-ahead goal. "We got going in the third period," said Laviolette of the third period. "Gave ourselves a chance to win the game, but we couldn't get it done."
Tough guy Tom Sestito played another effective night on the fourth line, recording five hits in just under eight minutes of play, and doing well in a fight with Thorburn. He appears to offer far more than Jody Shelley at this point, and should supplant him by remaining in the lineup when Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk, and Zac Rinaldo return.
The special teams were really good tonight -- the power play clicked at 100% (1-1), and the penalty killers were a perfect 3-3.
Philly didn't allow a Winnipeg shot on goal until 10:36 of the first period had been played. That would have been great to jump out to a big lead, but...
The Flyers couldn't muster a single shot of their own until the 13:35 mark of the opening period, and that one came while on a power play. They repeated the habit of shooting blanks in the second frame, finally registering their initial shot of the stanza when nearly six minutes had been played. The Jets were outshooting them by a 5-0 count by that point.
It was another game in which the Flyers scored first, yet managed to lose in the end.
Little was able to extract a measure of revenge for his earlier fortune, as his shootout goal through Bryzgalov's five hole was the only goal in the skills competition. "Just a little bit late to close the five-hole," Bryz said.
"Actually, I think there is an advantage to shooting third because you get to the replays and a chance to see how the goalie reacted," said Little after the game. He's right, and it seems Peter Laviolette gives an edge to the visitors by continually opting to shoot first. If you are getting goals to put the pressure on your opponents, that's one thing. But Flyers skaters have not been too successful in their collective shootout percentage -- they're just 5-15 this season -- and the pressure is squarely shifted to the Philly netminders to make a save and get the team to the next round. With the exception of Sergei Bobrovsky's 3-3 gem against the Florida Panthers in the last game before the break, they have not been able to stand up to that additional pressure.
While Wayne Simmonds has been a good fit for the power play, being in Jagr's place early on the right side of the Claude Giroux - Scott Hartnell line didn't go too well tonight. The line seemed off, and it was no coincidence that the top trio took off as soon as Jagr was re-inserted. Even though they didn't get a goal, there were moments of total territorial domination.
Rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon had a few moments where the Winnipeg skaters used him as a turnstile on the way to the Flyers' net. Luckily for him, Bryzgalov covered up the mistakes. It wasn't all bad for Bourdon, as he did make a nice pass to set up Sean Couturier for a quality scoring chance in the second period and put a hard, low one-timer on Pavelec in the third.
The 20-year-old Schenn was right on target with his assessment of his team's inability to get it going in the first 40 minutes. "Well, I think for us we were way too cute the first two periods, he said of the Flyers' over-passing and looking for the perfect set up for an open net. "We didn't have many shots or many chances and I feel like we didn't start playing until the third the way we can." Very smart for a youngster to pick up on that.
The too-many-men on the ice bench minor with just 4:18 remaining in regulation was absolutely unforgivable. The Flyers thankfully were able to kill off the resulting Winnipeg man advantage, but that is something that just cannot happen.
The team gets back at it on Thursday night, at home against the Nashville Predators. Yes, the same club that has Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the two defensemen every hockey fan in Philly wants Holmgren to somehow wrangle away from Music City.
My sincerest of apologies for no POTN and not answering the questions, but Comcast internet in press box is not allowing me to access the actual Broad Street Hockey page all night. That's why I waited so long to post this, in hopes that I could get that info and post it. Next time, I promise!