SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Flyers have been sensational on home ice, but mediocre on the road this season, a point of contention with new coach Alain Vigneault.
So when Vigneault met with his players Saturday morning, he told them they were the only team in a playoff spot that had a losing record on the road – and that it needed to change.
It didn’t on Saturday night as the sluggish Flyers began a season-high six-game, 12-day trip with a 6-1 loss to San Jose at the SAP Center.
Timo Meier had his first NHL hat trick, and Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman each scored their first NHL tallies to spark the Sharks, who ended a four-game losing streak.
The Flyers slipped to 8-10-1 on the road; they are 13-2-4 at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Our execution was not there," Vigneault said after the lopsided defeat. “We had a real hard time making plays, whether it be with the puck or on the forecheck without the puck. That’s why for two periods we didn’t spend much time in their end. We just had a very bad game all together.
“I’ve got nothing positive to say about one player tonight,” he added, “and that hasn’t happened to me very often this year.”
Ferraro and Kellman became the first Sharks to score their first NHL goals in the same game since Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on Nov. 22, 2006 against the Kings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Flyers had their four-game winning streak snapped, and Carter Hart suffered his fifth straight road loss.
Hart, who slammed his stick against the wall as he walked down the runway after the game, is 11-1-2 at home, 2-7-1 on the road. He is allowing just 1.44 goals per game at the Wells Fargo Center, and around 4.00 on the road.
With Jake Voracek screening goalie Martin Jones, Ivan Provorov scored on a one-timer from the point while the Flyers were on a power play, getting them within 3-1 with 19 minutes, 9 seconds left in the third.
But it took the Sharks just 45 seconds to answer as Meier finished off a two-on-one with Evander Kane to make it 4-1.
Meier tapped in his third goal with 7:08 left as defensemen Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-4) were caught on the same side of the ice, leaving the San Jose forward all alone and giving the Sharks a 5-1 lead. Patrick Marleau later made it 6-1.
“We didn’t win a lot of battles, and they were hungrier than us around the net,” center Sean Couturier said.
The Sharks had lost 10 of their previous 11 games (1-8-2) and coach Bob Boughner held a team meeting earlier in the day.
Maybe the meeting helped. Or maybe the fact that San Jose had a game under its belt since the holiday break ended helped the Sharks look sharper than the Flyers for most of the night.
San Jose, coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to Los Angeles on Friday, took a 1-0 lead when a defensive breakdown gave the Sharks a two-on-one down low, and Ferraro, a 21-year-old defenseman, moved up in the play and converted a pass from Barclay Goodrow (three assists). It was Ferraro’s first career goal in 34 games and it gave San Jose a 1-0 lead with 10:45 to go in the first.
San Jose controlled the tempo because of its aggressiveness and an active forecheck in the first period, during which it outhit the Flyers, 17-4.
The Flyers, playing their first game since the holiday break ended, were out of sync in the opening 20 minutes and managed just five shots, including two by fourth-line right winger Nic Aube-Kubel.
San Jose took a 2-0 lead when Kellman, a 25-year-old center playing in his fourth NHL game, was sent in alone on a stretch pass from Radim Simek and beat Hart on a backhander with 17:21 left in the second.
A short time later, Vigneault, looking for a spark, moved Aube-Kubel to the second line and dropped Joel Farabee to the fourth unit. He later reunited Couturier with Claude Giroux and Voracek.
Nothing seemed to work.
San Jose made it 3-0 when Meier deflected Brent Burns’ drive past Hart with 10:39 remaining in the second.
“Good teams have to be able to play well on the road, and that’s one of our focuses; it’s one of our challenges as a team,” Vigneault said before the game. “Other than the three-game road trip where we didn’t do that well -- there was a lot of emotion when we found out about Oskar [Lindblom battling cancer], we’ve been pretty good on the road."
Not on Saturday.
“We can’t come back from the break and give a performance like that,” center Kevin Hayes said.
The Flyers will play in Anaheim on Sunday and then have stops in Los Angeles, Vegas, Arizona, and Carolina during the trip.
“I look at this as a great time. I mean, we’re in hockey mode,” Vigneault said before the opening faceoff. “It’s hockey, hockey, hockey. It’s great. You travel. You’re with one another. You get a chance to play a lot of hockey against real good teams.”
San Jose is not a real good team. The Sharks entered the night last in the Western Conference with just 35 points, but they dominated the Flyers in almost every aspect of the game.
Hayes is thankful the team has an opportunity to rebound right away.
“That’s the best part of this league. You play 82 games and sometimes when you have a brutal game, like tonight, in less than 24 hours you have a chance to get back on a positive note,” he said.