Flyers hope season starts to bounce their way

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mark Streit is running the Flyers' first power-play unit after the demotion of Kimmo Timonen.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Mark Streit is running the Flyers' first power-play unit after the demotion of Kimmo Timonen.
Posted: October 28, 2013

NO WAY we get this call, thought Scott Hartnell. Not the way things have gone this season.

Hartnell was in the players' lounge Thursday watching his Flyers play their fourth game without him; all losses; all characterized by poor play and, it seemed, bad luck: a tough hop here; a missed call there. The team had one win in eight games, and had seen its head coach fired.

This moment against the Rangers crystallized the season. Flyers captain Claude Giroux took a borderline hooking penalty with 16 minutes, 8 seconds to play, 19 seconds after the Flyers took a 2-1 lead.

As he stewed in the box, a puck in the crease caromed off the skate of J.T. Miller and skittered past Flyers goalie Steve Mason. It was ruled a goal, but it was reviewed.

Replays showed little evidence to overturn the call . . . but overturned, it was.

"We got our biggest break of the season, that goal not counting," Hartnell said.

It is just the boost the Flyers needed to make a run to relevance.

The Rangers, a two-win team, were undermanned, most notably without goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has been nearly invincible against the Flyers.

Tonight, the Flyers visit the Islanders, who entered last night two points out of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

The disallowed goal could mark a turning point for a Flyers team that lacks identity and seemed to expect failure.

Not Thursday.

There were plenty of instances when the Flyers might have collapsed.

They gave up a goal to the Rangers late in first period the when a pass ricocheted off Bradon Coburn's shin pad and into the net, tying the game at 1. They managed only four shots during a 5-minute power play that overlapped the second and third periods.

The other shoe never fell.

"I didn't think there was much of a letdown," Coburn said. "We've had games in the past where something like that happened, and there was a letdown. I thought guys did a good job of regrouping."

The brass sent the guys two messages in 4 days.

On Tuesday, coach Craig Berube demoted defenseman Kimmo Timonen from the first power-play unit to the second.

Yesterday, general manager Paul Holmgren demoted to the Phantoms popular young left wing Tye McGinn, whose three goals leads the team. McGinn scored his goals in his first two games of the season, but did not manage even a shot in his last two games, which soured coach Craig Berube on him.

"He's got to learn to be more consistent," Berube said. "You've got to be hard on pucks and be a consistent player all the time."

The Flyers chose to keep Michael Raffl, who has no points in his four games, but whose consistent effort outweighed McGinn's production. Holmgren deferred to his coaches on the decision.

"He's got size and skill and can skate," Berube said. "He looks good to me out there."

So did the power play on Thursday, Berube said, despite its going 0-for-4. At 3-for-37, it is the league's second-worst.

Holmgren was less heartened by the power play's intangible improvement.

"That's an area that gives me a little pause. That, to me, is just getting shots at the net, then going to the net," said Holmgren, clearly sick of the fancy stickwork. "We have players who can make plays, but the plays we're trying to make right now aren't working."

Will the demotion of Timonen have any effect?

"Kimmo got the biggest slap in his face," Hartnell said. "It's got to send a message. You've got to outwork the penalty killers. The cross-ice passes work every once in a while, but we've got to get back to what works. Simple works."

Simple might come with familiarity, Berube said. With Mark Streit running the first power-play unit and with Jakub Voracek slipping into the slot, Berube was heartened by much of what he saw.

"We had some shots blocked," Berube said.

That wasn't the case on the 5-minute power play. The Flyers struggled to set up after getting the puck in the Rangers' zone.

"If we lose that game, we all look back at the 5-minute power play and how we didn't take advantage," said Matt Read.

Maybe next time.

Maybe tonight.

Maybe Vinny Lecavalier will be more effective in his second game back from a lower-body injury. He was rusty Thursday after missing three games, and he was playing right wing on Giroux' line after centering the second line all season.

Maybe Lecavalier's presence will shake some life into Giroux, who has yet to score a goal. Neither has Voracek, nor Hartnell. The Flyers have yet to score more than two goals in a game, matching the 1964-65 Bruins.

"Games are tight right now. It's difficult to score goals. That's just the way the league is. I like the way we're playing," Holmgren said. "Who would have thought that Jake wouldn't have a goal? Or Claude? Scotty hasn't scored."

Teams have flooded their defensive zones, are selling out to block shots, are getting outstanding goaltending, Holmgren said. Sometimes, it takes good luck to get two points.

"Obviously, it was a break. It could have gone either way," Holmgren said of the review - after which he noticed his team still played not to lose. "We looked tight even at the end. We iced the puck a couple of times when we didn't have to ice it. We needed something to loosen us up. I hope this helps."

Hartnell's return might aid that end. He skated with Voracek and Brayden Schenn yesterday. Twice, he and Berube talked on the ice about how Hartnell felt as the practice proceeded. Often Hartnell sought out a teammate to hit, checking Zac Rinaldo into the boards one moment, running into Vinny Lecavalier the next.

"Testing it out," Hartnell explained. "I'm ready to roll."

No doubt, the mood in the postgame dressing room helped ease his remaining pain.

"It felt like we'd made the playoffs," Hartnell said. "Or won a playoff round."

A good break can have that effect.

Max Talbot did not practice yesterday. He briefly left the Rangers game Thursday night after ramming into the boards and injuring his nose. Talbot seemed woozy as he left the ice, and he went directly to the dressing room, but returned to the game. He did not undergo surgery, Paul Holmgren said, but, "he's got a piece of the boards in it," Holmgren joked. "That's what it looked like" . . . Mark Streit, a free-agent signee this season who spent the past five seasons with the Islanders, said he was eager to return to Nassau Coliseum.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

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