Flyers tap back into winning well against Oilers, but problems remain

Jeff Carter scores his second goal of the game in the second period last night against the Edmonton Oilers.
Jeff Carter scores his second goal of the game in the second period last night against the Edmonton Oilers.
Posted: March 09, 2011

Practice? We're talking about practice?

 Not for the Flyers.

They were sick, and tired . . . of losing. So, on Monday, they did not practice.

Last night, recovered flu victims and offensive pillars Danny Briere and Jeff Carter combined for the first three goals to pace the Flyers to a impressive, if imperfect, 4-1 win over visiting Edmonton.

It worked out so well that they are not practicing again today.

Or, maybe, ever.

The Flyers will jet to Toronto today but they will not work out. So far, it's a winning formula.

They play the Maple Leafs tomorrow night, the fourth of 15 games in a 29-day stretch. The win last night ended the Flyers' season-worst, four-game losing streak.

Still, the sort of hockey that pushed them to the Stanley Cup finals last year - commitment to coach Peter Laviolette's system, disciplined play, constant effort - remains elusive.

"There's winning," team barometer Chris Pronger told reporters, "and there's winning in spite of how you play."

Moments earlier, Pronger was heard from the dressing room loudly expressing his displeasure with the Flyers' effort after the first half of the game.

The Flyers dominated play for the first 18 minutes, Briere and Carter each scoring once as the Flyers outskated, outworked and, as a result, outshot the Oilers, 16-0. They took a 17-1 shot lead and a 2-0 goal lead into intermission.

Carter scored again just over 7 minutes into the second . . . and then, said Pronger, "The wheels fell off."

The Flyers were outshot, 24-10, in the final two periods. Sergei Bobrovsky, in his fifth start in seven games, went from untested to unbelievable.

Jean-Francois Jacques answered within a minute of Carter's second goal, a devilish deflection, and the Flyers immediately reverted to their four-loss form . . . or, they ducked and covered.

It depends on whom you ask.

Maybe the Flyers, desperate not to blow a lead for the third time in four games, played extra conservatively.

"It's human nature, the way things have gone lately. We'll get back to where we were," explained Briere, who opened the scoring with his first goal in nine games.

"It's certainly a step in the right direction," defenseman Matt Carle said.

Not a big enough step, perhaps.

Laviolette called his team's play "sporadic" and "careless," and he seemed disappointed that the pace slackened after the rest he allowed them.

"We had plenty of gas in the tank tonight," Laviolette said. "We just didn't use it properly."

Less than an hour later, he gave his team today off.

Refueling again, perhaps.

Laviolette and Pronger both rued the glut of turnovers in the second and third periods against a shallow, callow Oilers squad, the worst team in the West.

"We played a team that has a lot of injuries and a lot of youth," Pronger noted.

Recently, the Flyers weren't near full strength, either.

A bad loss Feb. 26 in Ottawa led to three brutal practices. They lost again last Thursday, had a brief, rough skate, then lost Saturday and Sunday, all while fighting a flu bug that Briere said was rampant in the locker room.

Sunday's 7-0 embarrassment in New York, the worst regular-season shutout since 1994, prompted Laviolette to cancel Monday's practice. He said he expected them to return refreshed, to play "great."

They started great.

They peppered Devan Dubnyk with 17 shots and didn't give up an even-strength shot in the first period. Edmonton didn't get a shot at all until, on a power play, Kurtis Foster tested Bobrovsky with 1:12 to go. The last time they allowed one shot in a period was the first in Montreal on Dec. 7, 2009.

Briere is the centerpiece of the Flyers' most potent line, which was muzzled during the slide and faced deconstruction if it didn't start to produce. It broke through on the seventh shot of the first period when Briere snagged a breakaway feed from Carle at the Oilers' blue line, waited for Dubnyk to close his five-hole and went high, glove-side.

"He's a big guy. He likes to go down," said Briere, who hadn't celebrated a goal since Feb.16. He joked, "I couldn't remember the feeling."

He could hardly recall what it felt like to be fresh, either. He spent Monday sleeping. Like many players, Briere has been sick; just not too sick to play.

Not so for Carter, who missed two of the last three games with the flu. A big body and an effortless skater, Carter and his scoring touch were missed. His two simple redirections last night gave him 30 goals, most on the team. Briere has 29.

They had none in the four losses. In those games the Flyers were outscored, 19-6. They played poor defense; they lacked a committed forecheck; they had flawed spacing. It was the sort of hockey they played the last 33 minutes last night.

As they lost and lost (and lost and lost), they saw the lead they held in the Eastern Conference slip from nine points to two points entering last night, ahead of the Bruins, Capitals and Penguins. The Bruins lost and the Pens won. The Caps were idle.

The Flyers were idle, too, after the first 27 minutes, and it nearly cost them. It could have happened. The Oilers had won three straight. The Flyers hadn't beaten the Oilers in almost 10 years.

After the last two losses the Flyers talked about character, commitment and effort.

"There's been a lot of talk," Pronger said. "Sometimes, talk is cheap."

Apparently, so is practice.

Slap shots

The Flyers were 1-for-4 on the power play, but the Oilers' penalty kill entered ranked second to last in the league . . . The Flyers signed Brown forward Harry Zolnierczyk, 23, to an entry-level contract. . . Nik Zherdev and Andreas Nodl were scratched. Dan Carcillo returned to action after missing the three previous games, the first scratch due to the flu . . . Blair Betts' empty-net goal 41.5 seconds left iced it.

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