Over time, hopefully we'll be able to look back at this game as an example of how the Flyers can compete with the contenders of the league without relying on puck luck or a fantastic goaltending performance.
But for now, this one hurts. Bad.
Minnesota may have been an unimpressive 10-7-0 entering tonight's game, but considering they are the league's best team in possession statistics (first in Fenwick and Corsi Close), don't be fooled - this was a game against a real contender.
And honestly, the Flyers made them look like a mid-tier NHL club. In particular, it was the top line (unsurprising) and the Umberger-Lecavalier-Laughton line (really surprising) that really took it to the Wild throughout the game.
But they were chasing Minnesota most of the game in terms of the scoreboard. The Wild cashed in early in the third period in their first real bit of sustained pressure of the night to make the score 2-1. Then, a late power play goal from Giroux tied the game again, only to see a complete disaster a shift by multiple players with less than a minute left give the Wild the lead back, a lead they would hold for the rest of the game.
You can hang your hat on the fact that the team out shot attempted the Wild 46-32 at evens tonight, and 32-21 in close situations. But that doesn't change the fact that the team has now lost four straight and needs something a little more tangible to celebrate right now.
We'll see on Saturday if the Flyers can carry over their strong possession play to a rematch with Columbus, or if this was a one-game mirage that was wasted by running into a hot goalie and suffering a few defensive breakdowns.
Ten more observations on the game tonight:
- The Hall of Fame ceremony for Eric Lindros and John LeClair was really well done. Mikael Renberg showed up, obviously, but so did other 90s Flyers such as Eric Desjardins (who gets his own ceremony in February) and Shjon Podein. From 7-8 PM, it was a good time to be a Flyers fan.
- Scott Laughton served notice that he's ready for the NHL tonight. He's the first player to make the Lecavalier-Umberger pairing actually look dangerous at even strength this season, and that's one heck of a feat. What really stands out in person is just how fast he is. I remember when he was drafted, some disparaged him by saying he lacked a standout tool, but at this point in his development he can really fly.
- Brayden Schenn had one of his stronger games of the season, and he punctuated it with a gorgeous pass to set up the game-tying goal, which should have assured the Flyers of at least a point. Alas, it was not to be.
- I mentioned the bad defensive shift that a few players had on the game winner. Andrew MacDonald was the obvious culprit, falling down behind his own net to extend the play, and it's both easy and justified to blame him. But I'm not really sure what Matt Read was doing in coverage on the play, either. MacDonald screwed up and he shouldn't be defended, but it was a team effort of failure that caused the goal.
- Darcy Kuemper was the no-brainer player of the game. The Flyers blasted 39 shots at him and he came up with 37 saves, many of them on legitimate scoring chances. Philadelphia easily could have potted four or five goals tonight if not for him.
- Mark Streit was on the ice for 25 Flyer shot attempts at 5v5 and only six Wild attempts. I'd say that qualifies as "pushing the play."
- In good news, I thought this was the best Braydon Coburn has looked so far this season. We even got one of his "hey, I forgot, I'm bigger and faster than everyone else" end-to-end rushes that he remembers he's capable of every two weeks or so.
- The penalty kill gave up another one tonight, though the 80% kill rate is an improvement over their league worst 71.4% rate entering the game. Yikes.
- One thing that the Flyers maybe should look into with regards to fixing the penalty kill - maybe they're using too many forwards. In past years, Philadelphia has generally stuck to two main PK combos at a time. Right now, they're cycling Couturier-Read, Bellemare-Rinaldo, VandeVelde-Umberger, with Giroux sprinkled in to take faceoffs. That's seven forwards getting serious ice time. It's ostensibly to keep them fresh, but maybe it's having a negative effect, as the defense and forwards rarely seem on the same page.
- Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek both made it on the scoresheet tonight on the late tying goal. So there's that.
Comment of the Night
Got an idea, we can open a deli!
Trade Umberger for a ham sandwich.
Trade AMac for a roast beef sandwich.
Vinny has earned a stay of execution. Maybe he has some chemistry with Laughton?
Trade Grossmann for a turkey sandwich.