Laviolette avoids thrashing Flyers after another embarrassing loss

James van Riemsdyk screens Atlanta goalieOndrej Pavelec in Saturday's overtime loss.
James van Riemsdyk screens Atlanta goalieOndrej Pavelec in Saturday's overtime loss.
Posted: March 14, 2011

Peter Laviolette called it "nauseating."

Mike Richards chalked it up to penalties.

Danny Briere said the Flyers' inability to finish off games this late in the season is "scary."

Even though he netted his first career hat trick on Saturday night against Atlanta, Ville Leino said the Flyers' epic collapse in the third period - when the 4-2 lead that Leino gave the Flyers with 6:28 remaining was followed by a 5-4 overtime loss - turned it into an "embarrassment."

That might be the best way to describe the Flyers' latest loss, the biggest eyebrow-raising defeat in a string of quite a few in recent weeks. It turned out to be the franchise's worst third-period choke job since 1987. And it was just the third time in their 44-year history that the Flyers have not won a game after leading by three or more goals during the second intermission.

Laviolette remained calm after the game, saying he didn't see his team stop working in the third period.

"I don't get a sense we didn't work in the third period," Laviolette said. "I think we did. The result is nauseating, but I think our guys competed in the third period. We competed, but the chain of events, no one is going to sleep well with them."

It's hard to sleep well after an overtime loss to an Atlanta team that is not only half as talented or deep, but also has won in regulation just three times in its last 34 games.

Laviolette's players didn't view the loss in the same light. For the past 3 weeks, as they have sputtered to a 4-4-2 run, the general consensus leaving the locker room is that the Flyers have the situation under control, that they are just a little bored, a little complacent and need to play 60 minutes.

But the mood in the locker room changed after Saturday's debacle.

"We stop playing," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "This game is about hard work, making good plays, making simple plays. It seems like every time we get it to be 3-0 or 4-0, we start turning the puck over. We think the game is over.

"We gave up five goals in the third period [and overtime]. How do you expect to win games when you give up five goals?"

Timonen said the Flyers were guilty of "individual mental errors."

The curious mental breakdown about the Flyers on Saturday was that they rested not after building a three-goal lead, but by posting just 12 shots through two periods. While the lead was built off hard work and scrambling for rebounds, the Flyers didn't live up to the quality or quantity of scoring chances they have set for themselves.

Somehow, that was not a red flag.

The Flyers average 32.1 shots per game. They've hit that number just twice in the last seven games. Perhaps that is a product of a tighter, playoff style of hockey that is played in March and beyond. But that hasn't stopped opponents from averaging 33.1 shots per game over the last 10 contests, which is more than four shots above the Flyers' season average of shots allowed through the first 58 games.

Atlanta had 18 shots in the third period alone on Saturday.

In their last 12 games, the Flyers have been outscored in the third period, 20-4.

Clint Malarchuk, the Thrashers' goaltending coach who once had a skate sever the internal jugular vein in his neck while tending goal for Buffalo on March 22, 1989, was the man credited with sparking Atlanta's comeback, thanks to a speech before the third period. Malarchuk was miraculously saved that night thanks to Jim Pizzutelli, Buffalo's trainer and a former Army medic in Vietnam - within minutes of becoming the NHL's second on-ice fatality.

In a lot of ways, Laviolette is right to not publicly push the panic button. He knows that it is a process for his team to get back to playing the way it was 1 month ago. It doesn't happen overnight. And two wins over two teams who won't make the playoffs do not cure the ailment.

The goal for the Flyers' remaining 14 games, on paper, is simple. Win 10 games and the Flyers likely will lock up the Eastern Conference. That would require Washington - which has won eight straight - to win 11 of its last 12 games.

But the real goal is for the Flyers to regain the swagger and lunch-pail mentality that rocketed them to the top of the conference on Jan. 4.

Winning in the playoffs is all about consistency and stringing together period after period of strong, positive play. The Flyers haven't been able to do that recently. If that isn't alarming, last year's Capitals team - which won the conference by 18 points but lost to Montreal in the first round - should be a big enough wakeup call. Teams that coast into the playoffs aren't always able to flip the switch.

"This is one of those things we have to change now," Timonen said. "We can't wait. We can't keep doing the same mistakes game after game."

Pronger ailing

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren admitted on Saturday that there is "something going on" inside Chris Pronger's right wrist.

Pronger, 36, missed his second straight game and was seen wearing a hardened cast on his wrist. Holmgren said that was the same apparatus Pronger has been wearing on-and-off since blocking a shot on Feb. 24 against the Islanders.

"There is obviously something going on in there that's inhibiting the strength of it," Holmgren said. "If you're a hockey player and you can't grip your stick, you're going to have a hard time."

Pronger accompanied the Flyers to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., yesterday but his status for this three-game road trip is uncertain.

Since sustaining the injury, Pronger missed one game - at Ottawa on Feb. 26 - but returned for four games before deciding to sit out again. Holmgren said Pronger did not reaggravate the injury and he did not block a second shot.

"It's just, he thought it was good and it wasn't," Holmgren said. "He wasn't completely 100 percent before he played [those games]. Now he is taking a little bit of a step back, but, like I said, he has gotten better the past few days. He has not really taken part of anything with a puck."

Pronger has visited two renowned hand and wrist specialists and undergone numerous X-rays and MRI exams, though no one has been able to pin down a particular injury.

"I'm not worried," Holmgren said. "Chris wants to play. It's going to get better each day. When he feels like he can play, he'll play. As it continues to get better, we'll see how it goes."

STAT WATCH

1:

Number of career hat tricks for Ville Leino, who posted his first in Saturday's loss to Atlanta.

2:

Number of games this season in which the Flyers have allowed four or more goals in the third period. They allowed five in a 7-5 loss to Boston on Jan. 13.

Nov. 21, 1987:

The last time the Flyers lost a game after holding a three-goal edge heading into the third period, when they lost, 6-4, to the Islanders after leading 4-1 at the second intermission.

THE WEEK AHEAD

at Florida

Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

The Flyers nearly coughed up a 3-0 lead against Florida on Feb. 16 at the Bank Atlantic Center but prevailed thanks to an empty-net goal, earning a 4-2 win. The Flyers have struggled in South Florida recently, going just 3-6-0 there against the Panthers - who will not make the playoffs for an NHL-record 10th straight season - since 2006-07.

at Atlanta

Thursday, 7 o'clock

It won't take long for the Flyers to try to right their wrong against Atlanta, as the teams meet for the second of three March matchups. Despite losing twice in Atlanta last season, the Flyers are 16-2-1 at Philips Arena since the Thrashers opened there in 1999-2000. The Flyers chased starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec after the second period on Saturday night, but that didn't help their overall cause.

at Dallas

Saturday, 8 o'clock

The Stars, one of just three teams in the Western Conference that the Flyers face twice this season, entered a relative tailspin after leading the Pacific Division the last time the teams met on Feb. 5. They have rebounded to go 6-2-2 in their last 10 games after deciding to keep star forward Brad Richards at the trade deadline. They are 19-10-6 at American Airlines Center.

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