Maple Leafs make Flyers look sick

Kris Versteeg celebrates his second goal of the game against his former team.
Kris Versteeg celebrates his second goal of the game against his former team.
Posted: March 04, 2011

THIS SORT of lifeless, 3-2 loss shouldn't have been hard to foresee.

The Flyers had nearly as many players in their beds as Charlie Sheen had goddesses in his. They faced 15 games in 29 days, presumably without any of Sheen's stimulants of choice, and were a lusterless 2-2-1 in their previous five games.

Their power play . . . well, it wasn't exactly dripping with tiger blood, lately 1-for-20 and 0-for-10. It was 0-for-3 last night.

They have been uninterested lately in third periods, and, again, lost this one with less than 5 minutes to play. They have been outscored, 11-3, in their last seven third periods, excluding empty-net goals.

The players seem alarmed.

"It is very concerning,'' said defenseman Sean O'Donnell, whose helmet hindered him on the Leafs' winner.

Three points out of the last playoff spot, Toronto, like many of the Flyers' recent opponents, is desperate for every point. The Leafs' juices are easy to get going, observed recent Toronto winger Kris Versteeg:

"Sometimes, it's hard to ramp up ours,'' he said after scoring the Flyers' only goals.

If the players sound worried, their coach seems less concerned, even though what once was a nine-point lead atop the Eastern Conference has shrunk to three points ahead of Boston.

"We competed better than we did in Ottawa,'' said Peter Laviolette, referring to Saturday's 4-1 loss.

In Philadelphia last night they twice gave up one-goal leads.

It is the first time since late December that the Flyers lost consecutive games.

Again, not a hard one to call.

Toronto, young and surging behind Phil Kessel's recent scoring spurt, was overmatched but certainly not outplayed. The Leafs entered 5-0-3 in their last eight games, all since they traded Versteeg to the Flyers on Valentine's Day, and they were eager to make sure the deal didn't bite them.

But the dealt player bit them hard. Versteeg scored two nearly identical goals on passes from Mike Richards, but the Leafs continued to streak.

Five of the Flyers' penalties were the sort of undisciplined drivel that usually incenses Laviolette. The fifth of the bad ones - too many men on the ice - turned one of the Flyers' power plays into a four-on-four embarrassment that immediately blew a lead at the end of the second period. Dion Phaneuf scored 8 seconds into the four-on-four, with just 11 seconds to play in the second period. Richards was cheating up ice after he lost the post-penalty faceoff in the Flyers' zone.

That goal framed Darryl Boyce's game-winner with 4 minutes, 30 seconds to play. Boyce tangled with O'Donnell in the corner, where a wardrobe malfunction cost the Flyers the game.

"While we were scrumming, my helmet got flopped up," O'Donnell explained. "I was blind there for 2 or 3 seconds."

That was plenty of time for Boyce to carry the puck to Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and wrap a shot around the rookie.

It was enough to make you sick.

The flu that cost Richards a game last week struck down center Jeff Carter, who was tied for the team lead with 28 goals and second with 55 points. It kept left wing Dan Carcillo sidelined for a third day. It felled defensive center Darroll Powe.

It ensured the inclusion of waived disappointment Nik Zherdev, who played just once in the eight previous games. He played in the last game, on Saturday, a statement perhaps by the team concerning its newfound faith in him.

The flu awarded Ben Holmstrom his NHL debut. Called up yesterday, Holmstrom started the game on a line with Blair Betts and Jody Shelley, Powe's usual linemates.

It made necessary the return of James van Riemsdyk, who otherwise might have missed a second straight game with a lower-body injury.

It made oscillococcinum as precious in the Flyers' dressing room as bootleg Pearl Jam footage.

Again, Laviolette would not allow the flu to excuse or explain the loss, but then, he probably wouldn't have blamed the black plague, either, had it infested his roster. He lauded the club's third-period effort, if not the outcome.

Versteeg provided a karmic moment when he scored an easy one 6 minutes into the game. It was the eventual result of a sweet pass to Chris Pronger, whose shot rebounded to Richards, on goalie James Reimer's left. Richards spotted Versteeg camping on the far post and fired across, and Versteeg deposited his 16th goal, his second since the trade.

The Leafs answered 21 seconds later. Scott Hartnell failed to clear from just in front of his net. Clarke MacArthur intercepted the pass and smoked one toward Bobrovsky, redirected by Nikolai Kuleman, his 24th.

Slack play like that, laggardly skating and three penalties kept the Flyers from building on Versteeg's moment. Just past the midway point of the first, Andrej Meszaros slashed Fredrik Sjostrom, who was streaking in alone on a simple blue-line split of the defensemen. Three minutes later Meszaros crosschecked Boyce behind the Flyers' goal.

A late, lazy clear led to O'Donnell holding Tyler Bozak, the Flyers' fourth penalty of the period - 8 minutes of disadvantage incurred because they played an uninterested brand of hockey.

The Flyers ratcheted up the pain factor in the second period. Claude Giroux leveled a hit in the opening seconds, and Hartnell dealt Keith Aulie a jarring check. That pair hacked at each other for the next few seconds before it disintegrated into an unremarkable exchange of light, glancing blows that earned each a 5-minute break.

Richards replicated the scoring play with Versteeg about 7 minutes into the second. This time, Richards was fed by Matt Carle. Again, Richards snapped a pass to Versteeg's tape. All Versteeg had to do was redirect the puck for a 2-1 lead.

"Those goals were all about Richards," Versteeg said.

Bobrovsky generally was solid and occasionally was brilliant. His cross-crease denial of Kessel midway through the second period preserved the Flyers' one-goal lead, one of his 30 saves.

Between the penalties and the lapses and the giveaways, Bobrovsky was fortunate to have to make only 30 saves.

"We have to find a way to focus for a full 60 minutes,'' O'Donnell said. "We're just not as committed to it as we were the first 40 games.''

Injury update

Defenseman Chris Pronger (wrist), center Blair Betts (finger) and winger James van Riemsdyk (lower body) all played.

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