Lessons in the Flyers' loss

Sergei Bobrovsky denies the Kings' Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers managed to waste a great effort from the goaltender.
Sergei Bobrovsky denies the Kings' Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers managed to waste a great effort from the goaltender.
Posted: February 14, 2011

When the Flyers look back, games like Sunday's will be the ones they regret most if they find themselves without home ice in a playoff series.

Shut out at home by the Los Angeles Kings? Wasting a great effort by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to lose, 1-0? These games happen over a long season, but they also matter.

When the Flyers look forward, this playoff-like game could contain some valuable lessons for navigating their way through the postseason. Some were encouraging, some were not. But they were in there if you were paying attention.

Judging by their postgame demeanor, the Flyers were paying attention. Captain Mike Richards did his best Mr. Mumbles routine. Chris Pronger, who took an understandable but hardly helpful retaliation penalty in the third period, was at his combative, contrarian best. Coach Peter Laviolette's postgame news conference lasted only slightly longer than Christina Aguilera's national anthem - although Laviolette, presumably, got the words right.

This is a team that came one freaky overtime goal from playing in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last June. It has been superb for most of this regular season, vying for the most points in both the Eastern Conference and the entire league. But that competition is going to be fierce, and losses like this one will not help.

With two weeks until the NHL trade deadline, these are also the games that will inform general manager Paul Holmgren's decision making. When he asks himself, "What would Amaro do?" Holmgren's first question will be whether he's willing to send this Cup-worthy team into the playoffs with Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher as its options at goaltender.

What happened Sunday showed how a goalie can derail a superior team. The Kings' Jonathan Quick was sharp, lucky, and well-supported by an aggressive and physical defense. He stopped all 40 of the Flyers' shots and was stingy with rebounds and second chances. In a game like that, in a series like that, you need your goaltender to be perfect, or close to it.

Bobrovsky, the gifted goalie from Russia, was impressive at the other end. His focus seemed to slip on the game's only goal, scored just 17 seconds into the second period. But as the game went on and the pressure mounted, Bobrovsky stayed cool and made some terrific saves.

With Boucher playing well right now, and with Bobrovsky looking more and more like the real deal, it is more likely Holmgren will stand pat at this most important of positions. For one thing, it is rare for a team to give away an elite, experienced goalie at the trade deadline. For another, the Flyers' defense is deep enough and solid enough to take some of the pressure off.

The bigger concern, for the moment, is the way the league's highest-scoring offense has scuffled lately. As we saw with the Phillies in the National League Championship Series last year, there isn't much you can do if your offense disappears in the middle of a playoff run.

That's why Laviolette shuffled his lines in such an odd way on Sunday. He had Claude Giroux, Richards, and Jeff Carter on one line. That left Andreas Nodl playing center between Dan Carcillo and James van Riemsdyk. If that kind of tinkering produced a shutout in a pivotal playoff game, the coach would take some serious criticism for it.

"We never played together," Giroux said. "It's going to take more than one game [to evaluate]."

"I thought we played well together," Richards said. "We had 10 chances. We just didn't score."

This wasn't, after all, a playoff series. It was a one-off game against a relatively unfamiliar opponent from the Western Conference. And, in Laviolette's defense, the Flyers did produce 40 shots. By his count, they had close to 20 "quality chances." That should be enough to win a game. Any game.

"It wasn't a long-term plan," Laviolette said of the shake-up. "It was more just to give a different look, trying to attack more. It was tight out there again. I think we can expect that from here on out."

And that is the real point to all this. Losing a couple of points in mid-February isn't good, and could loom large later, but it isn't the end of the world. The Flyers know what the end of the world feels like. They endured it in this very building last June, at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The whole idea of this season was to rebound from that experience and be better prepared for the rigors of a Cup run. The Flyers did a terrific job of that from the start. The closer they get to the postseason, the steeper the road gets. Now we'll see if they can change gears and keep on rolling along.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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