Flyers Collapse In Third, Lose At Ottawa

8 Jan

Two-goal leads are dangerous. Especially when the Flyers have them in the third period. For the third time in four games, the Flyers gave up a lead in the final period, but this time they weren’t able to recover. They were handed a 6-4 loss by Ottawa in the second half of a home-and-home, mainly because of some mistakes in their own end.

As impressive as the Flyers have been offensively, they need some work defensively. That was evident on the Senators’ first goal. Both Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle chased Kyle Turris who had the puck. With Daniel Alfredsson streaking toward the net, Turris had an easy pass target and the Senators’ captain had an easy time getting a shot off as Ilya Bryzgalov had already committed to Turris.

But the Flyers have been a resilient bunch and fired back. Andrej Meszaros’ blast from the point found its way behind Craig Anderson to tie the score. For Meszaros, it was a goal against the team that drafted him in his 500th NHL game.

Aside from the defense, young Flyers stepped up. Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Marc-Andre Bourdon each scored. That makes four rookies scoring five goals on the season in Ottawa. Couturier seems to especially enjoy playing in Ottawa. His goal on Sunday was his first in 22 games. He also scored his first NHL goal against Ottawa back in October.

Bryzgalov played well, despite the goals against. He allowed a goal from Chris Neil that it appeared as though he stopped at first glance, but a lengthy replay revealed that he brought the puck back out of the net from just behind the goal line.

In the third period, he had a goal scored against him that he had zero shot on. Colin Greening made a pass intended for Jason Spezza, but Carle extended his stick to block it and instead redirected it behind the Flyers’ netminder. All-Star Erik Karlsson beat Bryzgalov later in the third period when he took the shot on a 2-on-1 and beat him five-hole.

On the night, Bryzgalov was actually pretty good. In fact the past two games against Ottawa may have been some of his best hockey this season. He made 32 saves on the night and came up huge for the Flyers as time was winding down in the third period. For the most part, he was calm and confident, coming out of his crease to cut down the angle.

In front of him, the Flyers ran out of gas. With 1:11 left in the game, Filip Kuba scored his fourth of the year on a shot from the point that deflected off Scott Hartnell. That was the second of five goals against Bryzgalov that were put in the net by his teammates.

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Flyers’ Coburn Says NHLPA Didn’t Get Fair Shake

8 Jan

WELLS FARGO CENTER — The lockout year nearly killed the NHL. Now they’re back and, some say, better than ever. But in the eyes of the players, the NHL gave reason to believe it could happen again.

On Friday night, the league released a statement saying that the NHL players association declined to consent to the realignment plan and subsequent new playoff format that the NHL Board of Governors voted on in December. As a result, the league said, next year will function just as this year. Same divisions. Same conferences. Same playoff structure.

“We could have worked around it,” said Braydon Coburn, the Flyers player rep. “There was some good ideas there, but it’s tough when you have some suggestions and they just go over unheard.”

While the Flyers were practicing back on New Year’s Day, the NHLPA held a conference call to discuss the matter.

“The main thing is when it came out, different guys had things in question,” said Coburn. “Basically, guys had questions about what was going on, especially with what happens with travel and how many back-to-back games we were gonna be having and actually, how many times guys have to cross the border. That’s a big thing too. I don’t know if you guys know, late at night, there’s a certain [annoyance factor].”

One trip to cover the Western Canadian teams would certainly benefit the players instead of going back and forth between the U.S. and Edmonton or Calgary or Vancouver or Winnipeg. But there is an even bigger issue.

Under the proposed realignment there would be two conferences of eight teams and two conferences of seven teams. Come March and April, that could mean a playoff spot depending on which conference a team is in.

“If you’re in a seven-team conference, you have a 14-percent better chance of making the playoffs than the teams in the eight-team conferences,” said Coburn. “I think there was a little bit of unfairness. That was one of the main sticking points that we wanted to try to keep working around with that issue.”

The NHL made it seem as though it was the NHLPA that wasn’t willing to cooperate.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a press release. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the realignment plan and modified playoff format for next season.

“We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league’s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”

Strong language from both sides insinuates that the first punch may have been thrown in the impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The response from the NHL and their decision to make next season follow the same guidelines as the current season gave fans a reason to worry. But Coburn says he’s not so sure the two are connected.

“I don’t think so,” said Coburn. “I really don’t know what to say to that. We had legit concerns and we brought them up and we said we wanted to keep talking about it and keep expanding on their idea and that obviously — they just went back to what we had this year.”

At this point, there isn’t enough reason to start freaking out about a potential second lockout, but the first punch may have been thrown. The two sides haven’t come to blows quite yet, but if this keeps up…

Focused Bryzgalov Comes Up Huge For Flyers

7 Jan

WELLS FARGO CENTER — Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t do a lot of talking on Friday at practice. He politely answered questions, even threw in a bit of his trademarked comedy. He wanted his play to do the talking.

Yes, sure, he got the win on Thursday night over the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks. But in the third period he let in two goals that he wanted to have back. On Saturday, the performance was one of his best this year. He made 35 saves and got another win, one he felt better about.

“Bryz played well,” said Braydon Coburn. “He was solid to the shooter. He played the puck well tonight. He was solid in there all game for us tonight. When we needed him to come up with some big saves, he definitely did that, so he had a big night and I’m happy for him.”

Bryzgalov was subdued postgame, cautious not to be too outgoing or casual. He didn’t want to just goof around, something he had been accused of doing and subsequently ripped for. He was relaxed, but focused, just like how he played against Ottawa.

“Yeah, I was happy with my game tonight,” said Bryzgalov. “Like I said before, the other night was lots of positive signs and I’m glad I can improve my game tonight.”

The Flyers hit the post four times in the game, so it could have been much more than a 3-2 victory. Instead it was kept close from start to finish and part of that reason why was Bryzgalov. He came up huge on multiple occasions. From a glove save on Chris Neil while he was down on the ground, to a game-saving stop on Bobby Butler in overtime, Bryzgalov was there when the Flyers needed him most.

“It was 2-1 [Ottawa] and we gave up some 2-on-1s and they could have ran away with the game, but he was able to keep us in there,” said Danny Briere who scored each of the team’s three goals. “And in overtime, too, we had some breakdowns that we’d like to get back.”

There was a clear difference in Bryzgalov on the ice. It wasn’t just that he made the saves, but how. He was very good laterally, moving from post-to-post. He had to do that on the Butler stop in overtime. He was also much better at rebound control, something that has been a thorn in his side all year.

“You can play the game and you still feel not confident, not comfortable,” said Bryzgalov, referring to the game against Chicago where he made 30 saves on 34 shots, but won by the slimmest of margins, 5-4. “Then somehow after some save or something click in your head, you just be yourself again and everything finds you. Everything stops for you. You see everything. You hear everything. I dunno, it’s just mental.”

Whenever that happened for Bryzgalov is unclear. Judging by the difficulty of some of his first-period saves, it probably happened pretty early Saturday afternoon. Either way, the Flyers are glad to have him back.

“He was excellent, I thought from the start to the finish,” said Peter Laviolette. “Goaltending was a factor tonight. It was good both ways. A lot of opportunities and a lot of attempts, but our guy held us in there for some chances against Ottawa. They have a high-scoring team. We knew going into it they would generate chances and that we would need good goaltending.”

Who knows if there’s a correlation between Bryzgalov’s personality and his play? Maybe it doesn’t matter which “face,” as he said on HBO’s “24/7,” he puts on. But on Saturday he put on the serious face. He barely even smiled when asked about the win. But what’s clear is that his head was in the right place, and he was stopping pucks as well as he had all season.

Briere, Flyers Punch Through In Overtime

7 Jan

WELLS FARGO CENTER — Danny Briere can do it all — apparently with or without his gloves. His hat trick and fight was “inspiring” to Peter Laviolette and everything to the Flyers. He scored each of the Flyers’ goals in a 3-2 overtime thriller against the Ottawa Senators and he also won a fight against Kyle Turris.

The Flyers won in dominating fashion over the Senators in October, but since then the Sens have greatly improved. Having won seven of their last 10 games coming in, the Senators were a big test for Briere and the Flyers.

After fighting off some initial pressure from Ottawa, Briere struck first. Jakub Voracek found him on the left wing midway through the first period. Briere took a weak shot that Craig Anderson saved easily, but the rebound came right back to Briere who put it home for his 11th goal of the season.

Ottawa tried to get the Flyers engaged in a physical game, but the Flyers remained on track and applied pressure. Anderson got a lot of help from his goalposts in the first two periods. James van Riemsdyk, Wayne Simmonds, Voracek then Sean Couturier all hit the post before the second period was done.

Then the Senators got back in the game. With Braydon Coburn in the box for holding and Matt Carle in the box for tripping, Ottawa struck seven seconds into the 5-on-3 power play on a Milan Michalek goal.

The teams went to the locker room tied at one after two periods and the Senators knocking on the door. Tempers started flaring. Briere hooked Kyle Turris in the groin and Turris decked him in the back of the head. Both went to the penalty box and wanted more. They agreed to drop the gloves, only the third of Briere’s career.

“I thought that was a cheap shot on his part,” said Briere. “He kind of came down with a crosscheck to the head when I was in a vulnerable position on the ice. I scraped my face onto the ice, so there was a lot of frustration.”

Briere got the better of Turris, at least his teammates thought so. After the five-minute major had expired, the Flyers were all banging their sticks along the boards as their newfound enforcer approached the bench.

“I’ll give it to him any day,” said Braydon Coburn.

After the fight, however, Bobby Butler scored to put Ottawa up a goal. Three minutes later, Briere came back with his second goal on the power play when Turris found himself in the box again.

“I was fortunate on that one,” said Briere. “Kimmo [Timonen] made a great heads-up play and I was able to tip it, but I got lots of help from their defenseman putting it in for me.”

The Flyers applied pressure late, but couldn’t solve Anderson in regulation. They tired out the Senators, who appeared to be playing for overtime, tying the puck up instead of applying pressure of their own.

In overtime, The Flyers were relentless with their pressure and Bryzgalov came up huge with two very important saves of his 35 on the day. With 5.3 seconds remaining, Voracek found Briere again at the side of the net and on a second effort, he beat Anderson.

“I had the feeling that they were going to play casual,” said Briere. “I think I was in a forecheck with less than 15 seconds when Jake was able to put it behind the net, all I was thinking was try to jam it. I knew that I didn’t have a lot of room.”

The win gives the Flyers their second straight at home, an area they had to improve on and hade a good stride with the win on Saturday.

“We haven’t really been happy with how we’ve played at home as of late,” said Coburn. “We definitely wanted to kind of change that.”

They can thank Briere for that.

“He’s not a big guy, fly weight,” said Laviolette. “But he did a good job in the fight. It gave our bench a lift. I thought it was not a good second period for us. We ended up coming out storming in the third period. We weren’t able to crack a goal right away but he certainly gave us a lift. He had a monster game.”

With Or Without Timonen, Ottawa Poses Threat

7 Jan

They learned to deal with life without Chris Pronger. Now they’ll have to learn how to deal with life without Kimmo Timonen. The cornerstone of the Flyers’ defense will likely be out for at least one game with a left wrist injury.

Timonen did not participate in practice on Friday; instead he went to the doctor’s office.

“Kimmo Timonen was seen by the doctor today and remains day to day with an upper body injury,” Paul Holmgren said Friday evening.

If the Flyers are without him, they need that stretch to be short. He’s been a minutes-eater and shot blocker the Flyers can ill afford to be without.

“Kimmo is a really important piece of the team,” said Peter Laviolette. “He quietly comes in here and everyday he shows up, works hard with not a lot of fanfare. However, his production on the ice and value in the locker room makes it hard to express how important he is to this team.”

On the surface one might think that the Flyers wouldn’t have to have him against the NHL All-Sta— Ottawa Senators. When the league announced the starting lineup of All-Stars and four were from Ottawa, many thought it was a joke. But the team is certainly not. Don’t look now, but the Senators are in second place in the Northeast Division.

“We would be making a huge mistake if we didn’t respect Ottawa,” said Laviolette. “They started slow but they aren’t slow now. They’ve climbed back up the standings and won a lot more games than they lost. We talked about giving them the respect they deserve.”

In their last 10 games, the Senators are 7-2-1. Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek actually are legitimate All-Stars.

“This isn’t the Senator team we played in the beginning of the season,” said Laviolette. “This is not that same team, they are a good hockey team.”

Ottawa is 8-7-4 on the road, where this home-and-home will start for them. The Flyers were desperate for a win on Thursday night because it was a home game and their record was lagging in that category. This time around, more desperation. Not only does that home record need work, but also they might be without their best defenseman. Again.

Gustafsson Ready If Flyers Need Him

6 Jan

CITIZENS BANK PARK — If the Flyers so need him, he’s ready. Erik Gustafsson played his fourth game after rehabbing a left wrist injury of his own and Kimmo Timonen’s left wrist injury might give the Flyers good reason to call him up.

But so far, they haven’t told him anything.

“I’ve played four games now,” said Gustafsson. “The first two games were a little rusty to be honest with you. Last game I thought I played pretty well and then [Friday night] I felt pretty good out there with such an exciting event. You get a lot of energy from that and all the boys were playing well. I don’t know if I played well, but it feels good to win.”

The Phantoms won 4-3 in overtime over the Hershey bears in dramatic fashion. They tied the game with 20.8 seconds left when Gustafsson fed Eric Wellwood for a shot from the right wing that eventually found its way to Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom in the slot. He deposited the puck behind Braden Holtby for his 10th goal of the year.

Then, less than a minute into overtime, Shane Harper scored on a breakaway.

“It’s unbelievable. The crowd was unbelievable,” said Gustafsson. “The atmosphere was great. To be honest with you, this was probably the best win of my life and it felt great. To be part of that, not only the last minute and the way we won it, just with these guys it was a great feeling. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

And in all the excitement, the wrist is only an afterthought. It feels fine and Gustafsson is ready to get back to NHL action. That could happen as soon as Saturday if Timonen can’t go.

“To be honest with you I try to not think about it as much,” said Gustafsson. “If it happens, it happens and I’m ready to go for sure. The wrist holds up really good so if it happens, I’ll be really happy.”

It was a huge disappointment for Gustafsson to miss time. When he went down injured, he was clearly playing his best hockey at the NHL level. On Nov. 5, his last game with the Flyers, he was a plus-6, played a career-high 23 minutes and got his first NHL point on an assist.

“It was really frustrating at the start there,” said Gustafsson. “I tried to put that aside and then when I had to have the surgery I was trying to stay positive. It was for sure really frustrating, but I’m just gonna keep working hard right now. It feels pretty good right now and I hope I get another crack at it.”

He was a plus-2 with two shots on net in the Outdoor Classic against Hershey and wants to get back to his old form. While he says the conditioning might not completely be there, he’s ready for the call. Whenever that may be.

No NHL Realignment Next Season

6 Jan

If you were looking forward to the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes being in the Flyers’ division, hold the phones. It won’t be happening next year.

The NHL announced in a press release that it will not move forward with the plans since the NHL Players Association denied consent to proceed with realignment.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a press release. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the realignment plan and modified playoff format for next season.

“We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league’s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”

The NHLPA returned fire with its own press release written by Donald Fehr which outlines the players association’s concerns on “more onerous travel” and “the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.”

Fehr says that the NHLPA tried to engage in conversation with the league about scheduling conditions to cut back on back-to-back games, long road trips and border crossings. But according to Fehr, the league had no interest in such discussion.

“The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL’s proposal,” said Fehr. “Players’ questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so.”

Sure, this could just be about travel, or it could be about the fact that the current CBA is about to expire and the NHLPA wanted to take an early stance with this issue. That war won’t officially start for a little while, but this appears to be the first battle.