Flyers Backcheck: Round One Goes to Laviolette

It wasn’t even close. Round one goes to Laviolette as his Nashville Predators dominated the Flyers in a 4-1 win at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night. Philadelphia was dominated in every phase of the game, as the holiday break appeared to carry a bit of a hangover for the orange and black. A new Flyers Backcheck is out to tell you more.

Penalty Killing, or Lack Thereof

Well that road winning streak was fun while it lasted. Nashville’s special teams’ units entered Saturday’s game reeling. Their 29th ranked power play, along with a penalty kill unit that weighed in as 22nd in the league caught the break they were looking for: the Philadelphia Flyers.

Entering their 16th home game, the Preds had only two power play goals tallied at Bridgestone Arena. On Saturday, they totaled three. Filip Forsberg, Mike Fisher, and  Colin Wilson buried the Flyers and their 29th ranked PK unit with first and second period power play tallies.

“That’s not a good statistic to only have two, so hopefully that will get us rolling,” said Preds forward Colin Wilson, who scored two of Nashville’s four goals on the night.

While the Flyers have fared much better on the man advantage themselves this season – seventh in the league – they’ve now gone three straight games without a power play goal of their own.

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Not only did Philly’s power play equal a hitless game in a nine-inning baseball game – 0-for-four – they were fruitless on a five-on-three attempt near the end of the opening period. When the Flyers returned the polite gesture of sending two the box in the second period, Mike Fisher obliged, notching his fourth goal of the season. 1:22  later, Colin Wilson drilled home Nashville’s third power play goal of the night.

And if you couldn’t tell already, all of those penalties ended up being a bad thing for the Flyers. Their special teams tonight were nothing short of piping hot garbage — they surrendered three power play goals and failed to cash in on any of their own extra man situations. A team this mediocre just can’t let special teams play like this if they have any hope of making the playoffs, so maybe Berube should make that a focus going forward. What do I know, though? — Al K., Broad Street Hockey

How the New York Islanders have a PK unit that’s lesser than the Flyers’ not so special unit is nothing short of mind-blowing. Especially since the Isles are very much in the thick of things with 47 points on the year. Nonetheless, this penalty killing unit that Craig Berube is ultimately responsible for has been stunningly horrendous all season long.

The Flyers have now given up 31 power play goals on the season. Just to illustrate how bad that is, consider that we’re still in the month of December, on top of the fact that no other team has given up that many goals while killing off penalties.

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Aside from Claude Giroux’s equalizer that came early in the second period, Pekka Rinne was fabulous in net for the Preds. The 32-year-old improved to 23-6-1 by denying 26 of Philadelphia’s 27 shots on goal.

As for Ray Emery, the veteran backup’s 34 saves show how strong he was in net. The 32-year-old netminder handled multiple blasts from Shea Weber while shorthanded, with the pucks that did slip by doing so via high pressure and screens.

Retribution Goes to Laviolette

No matter what Peter Laviolette says, or doesn’t say for that matter, this one had to feel good for the first-year Nashville head coach. The spin, of course, was wrapped around the team’s success, which makes sense all the time. In fact, Saturday night’s win pushed the Preds’ home record to 13-2-1. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more points at home.

“We know it’s obviously a little more important for him,” said Preds defenseman Seth Jones. “He didn’t really show it before the game but obviously we have a sense.”

That would be an astute guess, Mr. Jones. It’s hard to imagine a fierce competitor such as Laviolette, not wanting to beat his former assistant who took his job last fall. That’d be like not wanting the revenge of success when your girlfriend or wife leaves you for another man. And after joining TSN last year after being let go by Philadelphia, Laviolette is being rewarded for his patience in selecting a new mate/team.

“It was a good win for our team,” added Laviolette afterwards. “We’re moving up the standings. That was the goal, that was the objective.”

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That they are. Lavy’s squad currently sits third in the Western Conference with 48 points through 34 games. Of the top eight teams in the standings out west, the Preds have games in hand over every single one of them with the exception of Vancouver. And if we thought it was bad watching Mike Richards and Jeff Carter win a pair of Stanley Cups, the “of course” factor is likely to jump up a notch in the probability of a deep playoff run from Laviolette and the “almost” Flyer, Shea Weber.

Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it “we can never have nice things.” We can have nice things, but good things come to those who wait along with making responsible organizational decisions.

Tidbits from Music City

What’s a Losing Streak?

With Saturday’s defeat of the Flyers, the Preds have yet to lose two straight games all season. Nashville entered the holiday break by dropping a 5-3 decision to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 23rd.

Jake Voracek Watch

After three consecutive multi-point efforts leading up to the holiday break, Jake Voracek was held scoreless for the eighth time this season. With eight points in the three games leading up to the three-day vacation, the 25-year-old forward allotted himself this scoreless tilt, staying three points ahead of Dallas’ Tyler Seguin, who chipped in an assist in the Stars’ 4-3 win over St. Louis on Saturday.

Shea Weber Bobble Head Night

Coincidentally, the Preds chose Saturday night’s game against the Flyers as Shea Weber bobblehead night. Do you really blame them, though? After being forced to match Philadelphia’s 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that nearly left the Predators bankrupt, it only makes sense to choose the date of their only home game of the season against the Flyers. Perhaps next time, however, they’ll make the bobblehead actually look like Shea Weber.

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A Trip to the Desert

With the eight-game road trip half over, the Flyers will next travel to Arizona to square off against the 13-18-4 Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes may be 28th in the league in points (30), but they’ll welcome Philly into Jobing.com Arena on a two-game winning streak. The Flyers could have starting goalie Steve Mason back, however, after missing the first four games of the road trip due to a back injury.

The Flyers have won two straight out in the desert, though, last losing there on Nov. 21st, 2009. It’s something to look forward to. After all, if Peter Laviolette doesn’t want to hash up the past, why should we?