Thanks to Claude Giroux, the Flyers salvaged a point Thursday night despite a rare bad goal allowed late in regulation by Carter Hart.
No thanks to the dreaded shootout, the Flyers failed to get the additional point, losing to Tampa Bay, 4-3, at an electric Wells Fargo Center.
On one hand, getting a point against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs seemed admirable, especially since the Flyers — who were without the injured Kevin Hayes, who had played just two games after returning from abdominal surgery — controlled the third period and were the better team in the overtime.
“Getting that point,” Giroux said, “is pretty big.”
On the other hand, they blew a 2-0 lead, were thoroughly outplayed over the first 40 minutes, continued to struggle on the power play, and lost, as they usually do, in the skills competition known as the shootout. Giroux, playing inspired hockey in a contract season, scored on a vintage move as he deked around goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy just 1 minute, 34 seconds into the game, then benefited from Travis Konecny’s screen and tied it at 3-3 with just 8.1 seconds left in regulation.
“The game was pretty much over until [Giroux] makes that nice play,” said Konecny, who gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead with a first-period goal. “A point’s a point. They’re a good team, but we also gave them some opportunities and we know we can be a little better. We played a good game against these guys for the most part.”
Hart kept the Flyers in a 2-2 tie through two periods, but allowed a leaky goal to Steven Stamkos from a difficult angle that put the Lightning ahead, 3-2, with 1:56 to go in the third.
“I wouldn’t play it any different,” Hart said. “Just kind of an equipment malfunction there.”
By that, he meant the shot hit his pad, but instead of deadening the puck, it slid under it and between the goalie’s shin and toe.
“I’m not leaning over too far,” he said. “I mean, those pads I’ve only used four times, so they’re pretty new. You expect that from older sets. Just something fluky and something I’ll look into with my gear.”
Hart, who stopped 29 of 32 shots, is having a wonderful bounce-back season (2.25 GAA, .932 save percentage), but he has not been sharp in two shootouts. He allowed two goals on two shots in the shootout Thursday, while Sean Couturier and Giroux failed to convert at the other end.
For the Flyers, that’s been a common theme since shootouts went into effect in 2005. Since then, they are a head-scratching 53-94 in shootouts, a winning percentage of (gulp) .361. Florida is the second-worst team in shootouts, with a winning percentage of .418.
Yes, the Flyers practice shootouts at their Voorhees training facility, but obviously not enough.
Shootout aside, the most encouraging part of Thursday’s loss was the way the Flyers played in the third period and overtime, outshooting the Bolts, 16-6, in that span. They did something similar in their previous game, outshooting Calgary, 16-5, in the third and overtime and won that game, 2-1.
Getting three points out of four against quality teams like the Flames and Lightning is a positive.
Losing defenseman Ryan Ellis and Hayes after they briefly returned from injuries, however, will make the Flyers’ long-term success much more difficult. Ellis, the Flyers’ biggest offseason addition, will miss four to six weeks. Hayes? Well, coach Alain Vigneault danced around a question about how long he will be sidelined, and it’s fair to wonder why the center was put back into Tuesday’s game in the third period after going down the tunnel injured in the second.
“They’re both big pieces to our team,” said Giroux, who dropped down to the second line Thursday as Joel Farabee moved up to the top line at left wing. “We don’t know how long we’re not going to have them in our lineup, but we’re strong believers that when one of your top guys go down, it’s a great opportunity for someone to step up. We just have to play as a team, and we should be fine until they come back.”
That means players like James van Riemsdyk (two goals) and Oskar Lindblom (no goals, one shot off the post Thursday) need to step up. The Flyers could also use more offense from defensemen Travis Sanheim, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle, players still looking for their first goals of the season.
So far, defense has been the Flyers’ calling card. They finished last in the NHL last season (3.52 goals per game) but are seventh (2.47 goals per game) this year. That’s the main reason they are 8-4-3, but unless the power play starts clicking — it was an anemic 3-for-36 over the last 11 games — it will be difficult for them to remain in a playoff spot without Ellis and Hayes.