Lately, the Flyers have been playing some pretty decent hockey. Against a downright torturous October schedule, they came into tonight one point above the weird NHL-defined ".500" mark, which is pretty great all things considered. And they had a chance to get to an actual .500 record with a win in this game, after putting together a three-game winning streak against three pretty good hockey teams.
But they weren't winning this game. I knew they weren't winning this game. Deep down, you probably did too. Because if there's one recurring trend that seems to be prevalent with any of the Flyers' particular non-divisional opponents over the last three or four or five years, it's this: Good Things Don't Happen In Flyers-Lightning Games.
Right? The Flyers came into today 3-10-1 over the last four years against Tampa. I can vividly remember at least a couple of those losses, be them ones where the Flyers controlled play and got unlucky/bad goaltending or were totally suffocated by Tampa or ones (ok, just the one) where they literally stood in the defensive zone doing absolutely nothing for as long as they possibly could. So many possible ways to get to the outcome, but the outcome is never good.
Tonight's game was a little bit of a mix of all of these ways. The Flyers shook off a putrid first 10 minutes and actually hung with Tampa pretty well after that, which is no small task given that this is probably one of the best teams in the East (one that's a bit beaten up by injuries but still clearly has a lot of talent on the ice. The top line, as it has been for a while now, kept humming along, as Claude Giroux/Jakub Voracek/Michael Raffl combined for five points (in fact, as of this writing, Jakub Voracek is tied for the NHL lead in points and is solely in the lead in assists, which is just a little bit insane).
Of course, because Good Things Don't Happen In Flyers-Lightning games (GTDHIFLG, as we'll refer to it henceforth), some crappy thing has to rear its ugly head. And surely enough, tonight's 4-3 loss comes largely courtesy of a couple of bad penalties. A borderline roughing call against Zac Rinaldo put Tampa on the power play late in the second, at which point Steven Stamkos happened. A verrrrrrry borderline too many men penalty was called thanks to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare being just a step too slow to get off the ice with about five minutes left in the third, and that led to another tally -- this one by Jason Garrison -- that pretty much iced things.
Remember when we were like five games into the season and the Flyers were the least-penalized team in the NHL? That was fun. Kind of had to figure that wouldn't last.
There was some good and some bad tonight. All in all, not a bad team performance, but a shame that -- really, for the first time this year -- discipline was the biggest thing to cost the Flyers at least a point. GTDHIFLG, as I always like to say. "Always" being "since I began writing this article". Whatever.
* Ray Emery started his fourth straight game today for the Flyers, suffering his first regulation loss in the process. He maybe wasn't as impressive as he had been in the previous starts, but he wasn't quite as bad as his final statline may have you think he was (four goals on 32 shots). The only one he gave up that I'd look at and say he probably should have stopped was the fourth and final one, which came after he had already squared up to Garrison on an unscreened shot from the high slot, but even that one was forgivable. He did make the grave mistake on the second goal of "leaving Steven Stamkos with literally about two inches of space to shoot at in the very top corner of the net", which is obviously not going to end well. In seriousness, decent game for Emery, but with his winning streak brought to an end, it seems likely that Steve Mason will get his first start in over a week on Saturday.
* On that note: Steven Stamkos. Man. That PP goal was beautiful, and his goal at the beginning of the third period where he one-timed home a cross-ice pass was pretty impressive as well. He's good. Not a whole lot more to say there.
* Brandon Manning got his first NHL action in about 18 months, playing in place of Shayne Gostisbehere. Things started out about as rocky as they could, as Manning's first shift saw him get pinned in the Flyers' zone for a goal, but he seemed to get better as the game went on, and even got a primary assist on the second goal after putting a shot on net for Jakub Voracek to put home. Shayne Gostisbehere will likely get a chance to play on Saturday near his hometown in South Florida, and Craig Berube will have some choices to make when Carlo Colaiacovo (more on that in a second!) is ready to go, but Manning was serviceable in limited minutes. We'll see how far that gets him.
* We went through the officiating above, but man, does Tim Peel like to hear the sound of his own whistle. I'll leave it at that.
* Also discussed above, but deserves further mention: what the Raffl/Giroux/Voracek line is doing right now is just insane. The three of them combined for 14 shots on goal tonight, two of which ended up in the net, and the Flyers got a healthy majority of the shot attempts once again with the three of them on the ice. There have been times so far this season where Jakub Voracek just looks like he's playing a different game from everyone else on the ice with him, and some moments tonight -- his pass to Raffl on the late-3rd-period goal with the extra attacker -- fall under that description as well. It's been fun to watch.
* Also encouraging: after a rough past few games, Sean Couturier seemed to be more on point tonight -- more in line with what we're used to from him. Tasked with one of hockey's tougher assignments -- Steven Stamkos and his linemates -- Couturier put up a solid defensive performance, consistently getting the better of the shot attempt battle and keeping Stamkos relatively quiet while he was on the ice (power-play goal excepted). Hopefully a sign of him getting back to where we know he can be.
* Oh and shortly after the game ended the Flyers signed a guy, almost certainly meaning that Gostisbehere will be sent back to the AHL after this weekend. More on that over here.
Comment of the Night:
-- HexyMoFo, who did a great job finding a picture of Tim Peel so quickly like that
Off to Farther-South-Florida on Saturday to face the Panthers. Do you think the Flyers will go trick-or-treating in a Sunrise retirement home community? Seems like a fun thing to do. I don't know. Go Flyers.