Facing off with a really really good team today in the Blues -- one that can grind you down and beat you in a lot of ways -- there was always a chance that this wasn't going to look like the prettiest game for the Flyers. And to be sure, it wasn't.
Ten minor penalties for the Flyers, which even after some coincidental minors gave the visitors 10:27 of power play time. A sloppy power play that saw a shorthanded goal and even more chances against. A third period that didn't see the Flyers put a shot on goal until there was 7:35 remaining in the game, while the other guys picked up plenty of chances.
But you know what? We'll take it. The Flyers have played some good hockey for a while now, and while today was maybe the roughest they've looked in a while, a solid second period, some timely plays by guys here and there, and a great third period by Steve Mason were enough to make up for it. And as a result the Flyers skate out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 4-1 win over the team at the top of the Western Conference, for their fifth straight win, one which inches them that much closer to the playoffs. That's pretty freaking awesome no matter how you get there.
There's excitement about this team -- real, honest to God excitement -- moreso than there has been at basically any point this season. That hellacious nine-game stretch that started last weekend? 10 points out of 10. It's remarkable, and boy, it's been fun to watch.
SOME ASSORTED THOUGHTS:
* This was a really, really weird game, particularly in the discipline department. As mentioned, the Flyers took ten different minor penalties -- eight of which were committed by guys on their top forward line, with Claude Giroux committing four (!) and Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell taking two each. The Blues were no spring chickens themselves, though, as they were whistled for eight minors and put the Flyers on the penalty kill five different times. A bizarre game, with over 20 minutes of it not spent at 5-on-5. And while obviously a majority of those penalties were fair, there were a few calls that were patently ridiculous and a handful of obvious makeup calls to go with them only made things worse (and this was happening on both sides of the ice, for both teams). Thanks, Francois St. Laurent.
* Anywho. Typically, special-teams-fests are games the Flyers have played well in this year, so hey, whatever works (though obviously you'd prefer to not take even close to that many penalties). That said, the power play was not at its crispest (crispest? Most crisp? We'll go with it) today, scoring just one goal on its many opportunities and allowing multiple shorthanded chances (including a goal) by the visitors. A lot has been made this year of how much better teams do against the Flyers' PP this year when teams play them aggressively. The Blues generally did a pretty good job of that, often pressing at the blue line and either forcing the Flyers to give up possession there or snuffing out attempts to establish good control once the Flyers had it. Of course, the Flyers did get one goal on a nice passing sequence from Giroux to Voracek to Hartnell, who put it home right in the slot, so maybe we're making much ado of nothing.
* Meanwhile, the other side of the coin on special teams was outstanding as it usually is, particularly given how frequently they were called upon in this one. The Blues put seven shots on goal in their 10:27 of power play time, none of which reached the back of the net (though there were a few goalposts here and there, and Mason had to make a couple of really nice saves on one in the third). Full marks against a St. Louis power play that has a ton of talent out there more often than not.
* As mentioned above, Mason had a very strong game, in his second start in a row. Not a ton was asked of him in the first two periods, and I even thought he was fighting the puck a bit in the first (as much as I hate that phrase). But the Blues totally flipped a switch in the third period and he had all of the answers, including a few outstanding efforts on Blues chances in-tight and one sequence where he made two or three stops while on the ground in the crease. He got better as the game went on and he got it done out there today. He's had a good past few games after a rough start to this post-Olympic stretch run.
* The game-winner today was another goal for the Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds-Vincent Lecavalier line, off a neutral zone turnover following which Schenn got the puck to Simmonds and then scored on Simmonds' rebound in-close. As we talked about a bit on the podcast last Monday, getting contributions from those guys would be so huge for this team moving forward. It's always a plus when they can offer a complement to...
* ... the top line. Which -- in addition to its newfound sense of pugilism and tomfoolery that led to eight different minors today -- teamed up for the one aforementioned goal on the power play and then for another in the game's final minutes to put it on ice. Claude Giroux currently has 17 points in 10 games in the month of March and is, as of right now, tied with Phil Kessel for third in the NHL in scoring. Not bad. Notttt bad.
* Steve Downie left the game just 45 seconds in after his head kind of collided with Patrik Berglund's shoulder. That's a bit of an awkward description, but not sure there's a much better one -- it wasn't dirty or anything on Berglund's end, but it didn't look good and it left Downie face-down on the ice. He did not return after being ruled out with an upper-body injury, and one has to think that there's a decent chance he's got a concussion. We'll find out more soon.
* Ryan Miller: three goals allowed on 18 shots in his first trip to Philly with his new pals. Warms your damn heart, doesn't it?
Comment of the Afternoon:
Something about the color orange invokes a natural response in referees to blow.
Six straight on Monday at home against Los Angeles? It'd be nice. See you then. Go Flyers.