In a game that many saw as a measuring stick between two of the top teams in the NHL, the Flyers were left wishing for a few extra inches.
"It's not a measuring stick in terms of our opponent, but it's what you do after a big loss, after a long break, after a little bit of success," forward Jody Shelley said before the game. He was returning to the lineup for the first time in four games. "The most intimidating thing you can be as a team is one that's consistently hard to play against."
Instead, the Flyers began their five-game road swing like a team trying to catch up on sleep with the West Coast time change. With the loss - and the Penguins' win in Pittsburgh - the Flyers fell three points back in both the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division races.
It was evident from the drop of the puck that the Flyers were suffering from an 8-day holiday hangover, one that the Canucks already had snapped on Sunday against Edmonton and one that their coach, Peter Laviolette, had warned about.
"I guess in the back of my mind, I hope we're over our holiday blues in the first period and are ready to go," Laviolette said before the game. "[The Canucks] are past that. I want to make sure we don't fall into that in the first 20 minutes."
That's exactly what they did.
It's hard to believe the Flyers didn't find themselves in a bigger hole after a sloppy first period that saw Vancouver fire 22 bullets at Brian Boucher, but Manny Malhotra was the only one able to solve him. The Flyers had gone four entire games this season without giving up more than 22 shots. It was the most shots the Flyers had allowed in any single period since Dec. 20, 2008.
Not even Sean O'Donnell's spirited fight with 7 seconds left in the period could spark the tired Flyers, who were forced to use Oskars Bartulis more than normal on the back end with O'Donnell, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn in the box at different times.
"After a long break, you want to have the best first [period] that you can," captain Mike Richards said. "We didn't. We weren't ready. They capitalized on our chances. I thought we had a couple good days , but as much practice as you can get you can't simulate a game.
"We were flat. We gave them all of the momentum in the world and we could never recover."
In the second period, the Flyers weren't so lucky - despite posting 17 shots on Roberto Luongo and a goal from Danny Briere. Boucher simply wasn't able to bail them out. In all, the Flyers allowed a season-high 49 shots against. Ryan Kesler scored twice and Daniel Sedin chipped in with another in the first 5:21 of the period as the Canucks jumped out to a 4-1 lead.
"Maybe in the first period, you can use the layoff as an excuse," Briere said. "But after that, there is no excuse. The Flyers are known for being a tough team to play against. The last two games, if you look at them, we've been a very soft team."
The Flyers lost to Florida, 5-0, on Dec. 20.
In an attempt to jump-start his team, Laviolette responded not with a timeout but by yanking Boucher after the Canucks' fourth goal. Boucher had reeled off a 6-0-1 record in his last seven starts. Sergei Bobrovsky entered and allowed two goals on 21 shots.
Now, with one impressive streak broken, the Flyers hope to break another in Detroit on Sunday. They haven't won there since Nov. 4, 1988.
"It's a disappointing start to the road trip," Boucher said. "We should have been ready. We weren't. And we paid for it."
In his first game back since being suspended for two games on Dec. 13, Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley might have another suspension coming his way. Shelley was ejected from last night's long-gone game in the third period after dropping Canucks defenseman Andrew Alberts with a sucker punch in a scrum.
Shelley received a 5-minute major and a match penalty, which requires a mandatory supplementary discipline hearing with the NHL's dean of discipline, Colin Campbell, within 24 hours. Shelley was suspended for the fourth time in his career earlier in the month for a hit on Boston's Adam McQuaid, which was his first suspension since 2004 and his first stemming from a play that did not involve a fight.
People of power
In the recently released Jan. 17 edition of The Hockey News
, no member of the Flyers organization was listed among the annual rankings of the 100 People of Power and Influence.
Interestingly, former Flyers scout and now Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi made the cut at No. 51. The Flyers are in Los Angeles tomorrow night. New NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who will negotiate the next CBA on behalf of the players to try to prevent another lockout, was No. 1.
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, 36, was named to the "Top 40 Under 40" category, with the publication saying, "If you don't know who Pronger is, we hope you've enjoyed living under a rock. It's certain Pronger will enter management as soon as he retires."
Former Flyers captain Keith Primeau, 39, also made that list for his contributions to concussion research.
The Flyers were 1-for-5 on the power play . . . Former Flyers defenseman Ryan Parent, who was traded back to Nashville last summer in exchange for the rights to Dan Hamhuis and a conditional pick, was recalled by the Canucks on Monday night but did not play last night. Concidentally, Hamhuis - who spurned the Flyers and signed with Vancouver as a free agent - shares the blue line with Parent. Hamhuis has nine points in 27 games.