DENVER — Minus their leading goal scorers, injured wingers Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers figure to huff and puff to add points on a three-game road trip that started Wednesday night in Denver.
Making matters worse, they faced a gifted Colorado team that would have been difficult to beat with Konecny and Lindblom.
So it wasn’t exactly shocking that the Flyers fell to the Avalanche, 3-1, at the Pepsi Center.
Mikko Rantanen scored a pair of goals and backup goalie Pavel Francouz made 32 saves as the Avalanche handed the Flyers just their second loss in the last eight games. Francouz, 29, was playing because of an injury to Philipp Grubauer.
Francouz lost his shutout, which would have been the first of his 15-game NHL career, when Claude Giroux scored with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left.
The Flyers outshot the Avalanche, 33-27.
“Obviously, we didn’t finish (plays) as well as they did,” center Sean Couturier said, “but it could have went one way or the other. It was a hard-fought battle and they just executed a little better than us."
“I liked the way we started the game, and then they had that 10-minute, really unbelievable push in that first period,” coach Alain Vigneault said of the Avs. ”That’s as quick as I’ve seen a team come at us. But after that, I really liked our game. I liked our effort. We did a lot of things that should permit you to score some goals and we weren’t able to capitalize on some of our real good looks.."
Colorado is on a 7-0-1 run.
Rantanen, left all alone in front, scored his second of the night and eighth of the season to give the Avs a 3-0 lead with 17:29 left in the third period. Rantanen took a pass from Nazem Kadri, who was behind the net, and virtually ended the Flyers’ hopes.
The Flyers’ lineup included four rookie forwards: Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, Misha Vorobyev, and David Kase, who was recalled from the Phantoms earlier in the day and made his NHL debut.
“We have some young guys pushing, trying to make a mark for themselves,” Couturier said before the game. “So this is an opportunity for them to step in and show” what they can do.
The Flyers, cycling the puck and using an active forecheck, had the first 11 shots of the second period but couldn’t get the equalizer against Francouz. The Flyers finished with a 17-5 shots domination in the second but were outscored 1-0 and fell into a 2-0 hole.
“We had a lot of good looks; things like that are going to happen,” said Jake Voracek, who finished with four shots and set up Giroux’s goal. “I think we played a pretty good hockey game.”
“I thought we tilted the ice in the second and their goalie made some good saves,” said Kevin Hayes, who also had four shots but finished minus-3 on the night. “If a couple of those go in, it’s a totally different game.”
Flyers goalie Carter Hart made one of the best saves of his young career with 6:22 to go in the second, a stop that will be replayed over and over on all the sports shows.
Rantanen, racing down the right side on a two-on one, whipped a shot that a diving Hart somehow snared with his glove hand.
About 2 1/2 minutes later, Hart wasn’t as fortunate. This time, Rantanen tapped in a slick goalmouth feed from Nathan MacKinnon after a defensive breakdown by the Flyers down low. That gave the Avs a 2-0 lead with 3:55 remaining in the second.
Colorado controlled most of the first period and left the ice with a 1-0 lead at the intermission.
If not for Hart’s strong goaltending, it could have easily been 3-0.
The Avalanche took a 1-0 lead as Matt Calvert gathered a rebound off the post and put a backhander into the net with 14:39 left in the first. Hart had trouble finding the rebound, and Calvert deposited his sixth goal of the season.
“Kind of a weird broken play," Hart said. "... That’s the game of hockey. Sometimes the bounces are going to go your way, sometimes they’re not.”
The Avs (20-8-3) had the last nine shots of the first period and it seemed like they had a power play over the last eight-plus minutes of the session. In a late flurry over the last 36 seconds of the first, Hart denied MacKinnon and Samuel Girard and might have gotten his pad on Tyson Jost’s rebound at the doorstep after his initial shot hit the right post.
The Flyers (17-9-5), who had points in 16 of their previous 19 games, had little attack time against Francouz in the opening 20 minutes. Their best chance came with 9:30 left in the period when Giroux, who appeared to have an open net, pounced on a rebound but had his slot shot blocked by defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
Hart went into the night with poor road numbers: a 2-4-1 record, with a 3.78 goals-against average and an .849 save percentage.
At home, he has been dominating, going 8-1-2 with a 1.62 GAA and .940 save percentage.