Flyers miss opportunity to take momentum into homestand | Sam Carchidi
The Flyers looked like a tired team over the last two periods in Saturday's 5-2 loss in Dallas. Now they need to regroup and find more offense when a three-game homestand starts Tuesday.
DALLAS — After a stunning comeback win at Carolina — a team that had a 10-1 record and hadn’t lost at home this season — the Flyers had a chance to complete a wonderful weekend.
All they had to do was beat struggling Dallas, which had lost its No. 1 goalie, Braden Holtby, to an injury, and had yet to win in regulation through 12 games. The Flyers had good mojo on their side. Carter Hart had stolen the win in Carolina, and Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis returned to the lineup Saturday night in Dallas.
But instead of taking some serious momentum into a three-game homestand that starts Tuesday against Calgary, the Flyers, looking tired from playing three games in four nights, sputtered and dropped a 5-2 decision to the rested Stars.
Early in the game, despite a long plane ride and playing on back-to-back nights, the Flyers were the much better team. Perhaps energized by having Ellis and Hayes back on the ice, they had a 19-7 shots advantage in the opening period.
“I thought our first period was one of our best of the season,” Ellis said.
Problem was, Dallas’ backup goalie, Anton Khudobin, 35, who took awful numbers into the game (3.27 goals-against average, .885 save percentage) looked like the second coming of Bernie Parent.
“We had some Grade-A looks,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Should have been able to capitalize on a few of them.”
Despite a huge disparity in shots, the Flyers faced a 1-0 deficit after 20 minutes. They had given it their best shot and failed to connect. After that, the Stars took control, capitalizing on some loose defensive play and turnovers by the Flyers. Dallas was the hungrier, more physical team.
And, so, the Flyers, after playing seven of their last nine games on the road, come home with a 7-4-2 record. Not bad when you consider Ellis and Hayes have missed a combined 21 games.
Still, there should be concerns about an offense that can’t seem to finish most of its chances.
It scored just one goal against Dallas; the Flyers’ other tally was pushed into the net, accidentally, by Stars defenseman Luke Glendening.
The Flyers have scored two goals or fewer in each of their last eight games, excluding empty-netters. They averaged nearly five goals in their first five games. Since then, they have averaged 1.5 goals a game, going 4-3-1 in that stretch primarily because of goaltenders Hart and Martin Jones, along with an improved penalty kill.
“We just need to get more greasy goals and get pucks though and bang away there,” said right winger Cam Atkinson, who had six goals over the first five games and has none in his last eight. “It seems like we’re having a difficult time getting pucks to the net, and they’re either blocking it or we have to rim it. We have to find ways to simply get pucks to that area to bang home.”
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There was a tiny bright spot in Saturday’s loss. The power play, which was in a 2-for-26 funk entering the game, got a lot more quality chances than in recent games and seemed bolstered by having Hayes and Ellis on the second unit. Hayes and Ellis set up a late power-play goal from Ivan Provorov.
It was Provorov’s’ first goal of the season -- and the first by a Flyers defenseman since Game 2.
The Flyers, who are fifth in the NHL in goals-allowed per game (2.54), are built to win on their defense and goaltending. To become a playoff team, they need their power play to make major strides, and they need their defensemen to start finding the net. Defensemen Keith Yandle, who has struggled lately, Travis Sanheim, and Rasmus Ristolainen have yet to score.
Compounding things: Oskar Lindblom, who was demoted to the fourth line and was minus-3 against Dallas, is also looking for his first goal.
It doesn’t get easier for the Flyers as their homestand brings Calgary, two-time defending champion Tampa Bay, and Boston to town. Those three teams took a combined 21-11-7 record into Sunday.
Getting more scoring from the power play and defense is needed. And with Hayes back, the hope is he can eventually jump-start his good friend, Atkinson. Hayes, who will take a few games to catch up to the game’s speed after a six-month layoff, is centering Atkinson and Joel Farabee on the second line.
“Cam’s an elite player in this league and it’s really fun playing with him,” said Hayes about his former Boston College teammate. “I’ve known him for a very long time, and I wish I could have done more for him [Saturday]. He’s a shooter and I pride myself on on being a good passer. I didn’t get him the puck enough tonight. Hopefully as the games go on, we get some more chemistry.”
The Flyers desperately need Atkinson and the offense to awaken and lessen the burden on Hart so he doesn’t have to stand on his head -- like he did in Carolina -- to earn two points.