Sam Donnellon: Carter needs to regain his scoring touch for Flyers

Jeff Carter battles Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot on a faceoff in the Penguins' zone.
Jeff Carter battles Pittsburgh's Maxime Talbot on a faceoff in the Penguins' zone.
Posted: April 22, 2009

DANIEL CARCILLO finally scored his first goal as a Flyer last night. Jared Ross had his first the other day. And that's just great.

Here's what's not great.

Each back-of-the-lineup guy now has as many goals as Jeff Carter, whose scoring touch was so integral to the Flyers' success this season.

Carter had 46 goals and 84 points during the regular season. The Flyers were 25-4-6 when he scored, and they are 1-0 in this series when he has found the net.

Mike Richards is a great player, played tough and great last night, set up the Flyers' only goal. But the staple this year, backed by those numbers, is this: As Jeff Carter goes, so go the Flyers.

Or as he said after last night's 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh pushed the Flyers closer to an early summer, "Our line is here to play good defense and to score goals and provide offense. It's not really going that way. It's tough, especially in a playoff series when you lose four games you're done."

Within the first 3 minutes last night, Carter had already hit the crossbar, repeating a scene from each of the three previous games. Later he would hit a post. Even later he would be denied on a shorthanded attempt from the left circle. In the waning minutes, with the Flyers needing just one goal to tie, Carter blazed down the right boards, forced Marc-Andre Fluery to come out, looped around him and slid a puck through the crease, with the net vacated.

The puck slid all the way through and hit Sidney Crosby on his stick. He seemed surprised.

"It's kind of how the whole game went," said Carter. "We had a lot of chances, a lot of pucks just out of the reach of guys."

The Flyers put 46 shots on Fleury. Only Carcillo's shot from the slot found net, and then only after Fleury had stopped Richards on a stuff try from behind the net. Carter was credited with five shots, three missed shots, one shot blocked.

"I'd be more concerned if he wasn't getting those chances," said Flyers coach John Stevens. "He hasn't scored the way he has, but he's getting the opportunities he's had all year. He's skating, playing hard. That whole line is creating some great scoring opportunities."

Joffrey Lupul has an assist, on Carter's goal. Scott Hartnell has a goal and an assist. Last night that line accounted for 13 of the Flyers' 46 shots, about the number you would expect from a scoring line.

So what gives?

Well, the totals may be a bit misleading. Often in last night's game, and in Game 1 as well, the Flyers settled for wide-angled shots, hoping to create traffic in front.

Almost as often, Fleury got a hold of the puck, got a faceoff, and allowed his team's superiority in that department to escape such a scenario. The Penguins weren't as dominant last night as they've been in that department - they won 43 and lost 39. But they also blocked 20 shots and clogged up the front of their net, hampering and hurrying some of those 46 shots that made it through.

Twice in this series the Flyers have mustered just a goal against a team that allowed even more goals than the Flyers did this season. Only once, in the Flyers' 6-3 victory Sunday, have they scored more than two. And yet this series could be miles from a panic without that late power play goal by the Penguins in Game 2, a power play created by a - you guessed it - Jeff Carter penalty.

The Penguins have survived nicely with Sidney Crosby a little off his game and Petr Sykora playing with a damaged shoulder. Their script is being written by Evgeni Malkin, and by a surprising physicality that has provided the Flyers a plethora of power plays over the last two games.

The Flyers had eight power plays last night. Ranked sixth in the NHL in that department this season, they did not score once. Pittsburgh, once as low as 22nd on the penalty kill, rode a much-improved effort into the playoffs under new coach Dan Bylsma,

Make no mistake though: Fleury stole this game. But from the moment Carter swooped in on him and hit the crossbar, there was a haunting feeling to this game. Carter also drew a hooking penalty when he skated in on a 2-on-1, and later had the puck all alone in the slot, and Fleury gloved his shot.

"It's definitely frustrating," he said.

More than that. It's about to be lethal.

"Our margin of error is zero," Steven said, and Jeff Carter's is, too. Because if this aborted run ends with his number sitting at one, it's going to stink up his splendid regular season like a Detroit octopus. That may not be the way it should be, but as Carter knows too well already, that's the way the puck bounces. *

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