Sam Donnellon: Flyers too pretty for their own good

Eric Wellwood is hugged by Jake Voracek (left) and Kimmo Timonen after scoring Flyers' only goal.
Eric Wellwood is hugged by Jake Voracek (left) and Kimmo Timonen after scoring Flyers' only goal. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 21, 2012

THE DANGER of being an offense-first team is that sometimes it works so well that, well . . . sometimes you think anything will work.

Especially against a team you feel superior to, a team you had outscored entering last night's game by 51 goals, a team that leads its division despite allowing 16 more goals than it has scored, a team you beat up just 12 days before, 5-0.

The Flyers had the jump of a team chasing first place against Florida. What they didn't have was the desperation of one. Time and time again during a lopsided first period, they swarmed into the Panthers' zone, passed it around like a skate-footed version of the Globetrotters and ultimately passed on some promising chances for the chance of more promising ones.

They forced the other team into four penalties. They outshot them, 11-4. They had a five-on-three for 42 seconds. And when the period ended, they trailed, 1-0.

"The message, especially with the power play, is to bring the puck to the net," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was saying after a 2-1 loss to the Panthers. "We've had a lot of success just bringing the puck to the net. And I think on the power play there were too many plays, too many passes.

"Sometimes the simplicity of what you do on the power play is the best opportunity you might get. Which is just firing it there. We've got guys who know what they're doing in front of the net."

The shots were even more lopsided when the Panthers made it 2-0 with 6 minutes, 35 seconds gone in the second period, when the puck detoured on its own off the boards behind the net and gave Sean Bergenheim an open side to shoot at. At that point Laviolette used his one and only timeout to say much of what is printed above. Despite the score, defense was not the problem. Nor was jump, effort, all those catch words that usually flow from the mouths of coaches during timeouts. Prettiness, too much of it, at really inopportune times, was making this an ugly mess. The Flyers didn't seem to want to score goals as much as make "SportsCenter's'' top 10 plays.

Particularly guilty was their star, Claude Giroux, who bypassed a shot in favor of a pass during a shorthanded two-on-one early in the second period and had it knocked away by the lone defenseman. The Flyers were clearly the faster team, the more skilled team and really, even the more defensively sound team. They just couldn't get over themselves, at least until their coach had that little talk with them.

Just 1 minute and 19 seconds later, Eric Wellwood banked a puck from behind the Panthers' net off the leg of defenseman Ed Jovanovski for his fourth goal, cutting the lead in half. Minutes of pressure followed, this time firing from all angles, from everywhere.

"When it got to 2-0 we started working a little smarter," said Danny Briere. "Instead of passing up opportunities for pretty plays, we started shooting more."

The Flyers ousthot Florida, 36-13. The game ended with a mess of bodies in front of Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen, the puck sliding just wide of the goal twice in the final minute, lingering loosely right in front another time.

And when it was over, when they had lost a game they should have, could have won, they uttered phrases that will become recurring a few weeks from now, when so many games are decided by a funny bounce or a faulty approach.

"There's definitely a lesson here," said Briere. "Games happen so fast, and when you come into the playoffs I really believe that momentum is a game-to-game thing. We're going to play some big games in the playoffs, and all the games are going to look like this in the playoffs. They're all going to be tight. And you need to bear down."

The loss was not excruciating, of course. Yes, there's talk of first place overall, of catching the Rangers, but the remaining schedule makes that a daunting if not impossible task. And if this game provided a lesson or a reminder of sorts for a young team heading into the real season, as Briere suggested - hoped? - well, then it even contained a silver lining.

Because gritty trumps pretty this time of the year. Always has, always will. Laviolette's far-reaching teams, the ones with guys like Rod Brind'Amour and Ian Laperriere scoring ugly goals, got that. His one-and-dones did not.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com

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