December actually has not been a bad month for the Philadelphia Flyers so far.
After all, the team entered tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 3-1-2 record - far from world beating, sure, but earning a point in all but one game was certainly a step forward.
So with the Lightning in the midst of a 1-4 skid and in the second game of a back-to-back, it seemed like as good of a time as any for the Flyers to break their five-game losing streak against Tampa Bay.
Steven Stamkos and his team had other ideas.
Stamkos' beautiful snipe tied the score at 1-1 in the second period, erasing a lead that the Flyers had earned due to a late first period power play goal by Wayne Simmonds. Tyler Johnson broke the tie shortly thereafter, scoring immediately after the Flyers had killed their third penalty of the contest. Valtteri Filppula iced it with an empty netter in the third, and that ended any hopes of a comeback.
On the whole, the Flyers didn't play an awful game. They out shot attempted the Lightning at even strength, 42-32, and had a number of extended shifts in the Tampa zone. But it didn't add up to very many high quality scoring chances, and the Lightning did a very good job of clogging up the neutral zone and forcing lots of dump-ins.
Top to bottom, Tampa simply has a better roster than the Flyers, particularly on defense. That allows them to change styles on the fly, opening it up offensively when in need of a goal, and tightening it up in the middle when killing time to close one out.
The Flyers may have taken apart teams like Carolina and New Jersey in recent days. But they're still not in the league of the East's true elite squads like the Lightning.
A few more observations on tonight's game:
- This game was lost in the second period, without a doubt. I felt like the Flyers actually outplayed the Lightning in the first period, but the second was all Tampa. Then, once they gained the lead, the Lightning slowed down the tempo of the game and the Flyers failed to adjust. Game, set, match.
- In good news from tonight's game, Wayne Simmonds scored a beauty of a deflection goal in the first period off a Mark Streit slapshot. Simmonds had a fairly underwhelming November after a standout October, but it seems like he's back on his game as we approach the holidays.
- Another positive: Matt Read looked dangerous again tonight. He finished with a 72% Corsi For percentage, and showcased his high-end speed all night, both with and without the puck. Looks like Read may truly be back.
- I remain amazed that Nicklas Grossmann can continue to turn the puck over so much in his own zone and seemingly never have the puck end up in his own net as a result. He's living the charmed life right now, but when the bounces start going against him, look out. This could get ugly.
- Steve Mason finished with a mediocre save percentage tonight, but I felt he played fairly well overall, even if he was bailed out by the post repeatedly in the first period.
- Scott Laughton had a jaw-dropping controlled zone entry in the third period, as he dangled past no less than three Tampa players in order to generate a quality scoring chance. I'm not sure yet what his ultimate upside is, but it's clear he's not going to plateau as a checking line center.
- They did allow Tyler Johnson's goal immediately following a power play, but aside from that breakdown, the Flyers had quite a few dominant penalty kills. We're at the point where we can accept that the team's struggles at 4v5 aren't just a small-sample size induced fluke - this formerly-elite PK has somehow become a key weak point. But it was nice to see them look like their old selves, even if only for a little bit.
Comment of the Night
I would laugh a lot if we ended up miraculously turning Schultz for a mid-round pick at the deadline. Something something veteran leadership something Cup run something something.