The Flyers sure are lucky the Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Atlantic Division. Thursday night’s loss to the Bolts marked Philadelphia’s seventh straight defeat in whatever they’re calling that building these days. But it didn’t have to be like this. Nevertheless, the Flyers remain winless in Tampa since Feb. 15th, 2011. Let’s just get this over with.
The Flyers waltzed into Amalie Arena on Thursday winners of three straight, and four of their last five. Forgive Craig Berube’s soldiers for their stunningly slow start since, after all, they had earned points in six of their last seven, and were facing a Lightning team without a pair of their heavy lifters.
As it turns out, Tampa Bay didn’t need star defenseman Victor Hedman, or forward Ryan Callahan to race past the Flyers. Sure, they would’ve liked to have had them, especially Hedman. But that would simply be adding insult to injury.
In 16 career games against the Flyers, Hedman has taken Philadelphia to school, notching four goals and seven assists. In fact, the Flyers are just one of four teams the 23-year-old defenseman has scored 10 or more points against.
Even though Philly was catching a break in Hedman’s absence (due to injury), they still had to account for that Steven Stamkos guy. And if keeping the Lightning captain from his ninth career hat trick is defined as “accounted for,” then they did that at least.
For all the bragging about how disciplined this year’s Flyers team has been, it was their lack of it that ended up shooting themselves in the end. The Bolts cashed in on two of their five power play opportunities, and spoiled an otherwise terrific outing from Ray Emery.
The Flyers have not won in Tampa Bay since Feb. 15, 2011, being outscored 27-11 in their 0-6-1 stretch. It is their worst current run at any opposing venue – and a particularly troubling one considering the Lightning play in the Eastern Conference. — Frank Seravalli, philly.com
The Flyers were whistled for seven penalties in all, with two resulting in four-on-four play. Among the slew of penalties, they were caught Hi-sticking twice, and that dreaded infraction of Too many men on the ice for what seems like the hundredth time this season.
“Second period we had four penalties in a row,” Berube said. “That kills you. Same thing in the third. You can’t be in the penalty box all game. It’s tough, but the effort is good.”
Never mind the fact that Vladislav Namestnikov’s first period goal was scored on a play that was technically offside. If that truly mattered, the Flyers would’ve seen overtime and added to their point streak regardless of the outcome. And despite finishing his fourth straight start with an .875 save percentage, Ray Emery continued his spectacular play this season by not allowing a single soft/bad goal on Thursday.
Credit Philly’s trademark resiliency too. After Stamkos’ second goal of the game, Jakub Voracek answered by scoring his first goal since Oct. 18th. Voracek also added an assist after Jason Garrison scored on the power play at the 16:48 mark of the third period. Voracek was named the game’s third star, and now has five multi-point games in Philadelphia’s last six – four straight if you’re counting that too.
Michael Raffl saw his team-leading five goals matched by Wayne Simmonds’ first period goal, but soon reassumed the top spot by netting his sixth of the year with under a minute to play in regulation. Raffl’s score came with an extra attacker, as Emery watched from the bench, and cut Tampa Bay’s lead to one. But that’s where it ended.
Another night in Tampa, another loss. What are the odds?
More New Faces on the Blue Line
Earlier in the day, the Flyers announced the call up of defenseman Brandon Manning from AHL Lehigh Valley. Manning, of course, was brought up to take Shayne Gostisbehere’s spot in the lineup after just two games. And although Gostisbehere didn’t play himself out of the lineup, inserting Manning into a pairing with Luke Schenn had more to do with the fact that Manning outweighs Gostisbehere by nearly 40 pounds.
“That was part of it, but again, I’m cautious with Ghost. (He’s a) young guy and I want to be careful with him,” said Berube earlier in the day. “That’s a big part of the process of developing these players. It’s nothing Ghost did. To me, it’s the best fit for tonight’s game.”
Aside from Gostisbehere’s increasing popularity amongst fans, and Manning’s mountain of penalty minutes in the AHL (381 penalty minutes dating back to 2012), the decision really wasn’t anything to to get bent out of shape over. After all, in Manning’s 10 career NHL games prior to Thursday’s tilt, the Flyers were 8-2-0, with both defeats suffered at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Well, 8-3-0 now with Tampa Bay’s name added to the list.
Manning exceeded expectations against the Lightning, though, even if the bar was set unfairly high or low. Despite receiving the minus-rating for Namestnikov’s first period goal, and shortly after that, handling the puck dangerously in front of Emery with the Bolts applying pressure, Manning did what was asked of him in 14:09 of ice time. In fact, his primary assist on Voracek’s goal earned him more points than Gostisbehere totaled in two games.
Furthermore, of the seven Flyers who sat in the penalty box, Manning was not one of them. In fact, Manning has yet to commit a single penalty now in all 11 of his NHL games played. A stark contrast from his tenure in the AHL, where he’s on a first name basis with the penalty box attendant, and sips out of a water bottle with his name written on it.
Even with Manning up, there will be no debate between he and Gostisbehere. That’s because the Flyers announced after Thursday’s game that they had signed veteran defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo. The 31-year-old Toronto native joins the Flyers so that they can return Gostisbehere to the AHL where he can further develop. In other words, it’s Ron Hextall’s latest chess move to restore his philosophy of allowing prospects to ready themselves at a level that best allows that.
Colaiacovo is a bit of a journeyman, who’s been bitten in the past by the injury bug, but still skates well enough for Hextall to add him to a defensive unit that reflects the setting of the old television show MASH.
The 31-year-old defenseman was a former first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001. He has 401 games of NHL experience and is considered a puck-mover who skates well. Colaiacovo played parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Blues after Toronto traded him. He went to Detroit on a two-year, $5 million contract and got bought out in 2013. Last year he went back to St. Louis and had a goal and three assists in 25 games, where he averaged 15:09 of ice time. — Dave Isaac, Courier-Post
In the present tense, the acquisition of Colaiacovo makes the Michael Del Zotto signing seem like a free agency splash. And perhaps it was. Del Zotto’s 23:41 of ice time on Thursday marked the third straight game he led all Flyers in time on ice, while adding two assists and a plus-three rating in that trio of games.
The End of October
Philadelphia’s grueling schedule for the month of October has now come and gone. Good riddance!
The month that featured matchups against nine playoff teams from last season also ended up including 10 teams with current winning records. And after everything the Flyers have endured, they’ve now finished the opening month with a 4-4-2 record.
Even though the Flyers didn’t start, or end, the opening month in a fashion warranting talks of a Stanley Cup run, their 10 points in 10 games is quite satisfactory. Especially after running that gauntlet.
“It’s all right,” said Emery after Philly’s loss in Tampa. “It’s not bad. It’s a tough group of teams we played. We didn’t start off the way we wanted to, but we had a good stretch and put ourselves back into things.”
For a team that started out so badly, the Flyers have made most of their games very, very exciting to watch.
— Sarah Baicker (@sbbaicker) October 31, 2014
Philadelphia will next take on the Florida Panthers twice, with a single meeting with the Edmonton Oilers sandwiched in between. But what appears to be a break in the schedule is anything but. Not when both teams are just a single point behind Philly’s 10.
Both Florida and Edmonton are vastly improved from last season, where the Flyers went a combined 4-1-0 against both teams combined. The Panthers showcase a cast of new faces, and are tied with Nashville and Minnesota for fewest goals allowed in the NHL.
The Oilers, on the other hand, are tied with the Flyers and the New York Islanders for the most goals allowed through the first 10 games. But their scoring threat is reflected in Taylor Hall’s team-leading six goals, which matches Michael Raffl’s tallies.
With Carolina in the Metropolitan basement with only two points, the Flyers are safe from hitting rock bottom anytime soon. But with three other divisional teams with 10 points or more in only nine games played, the Flyers undoubtedly cannot afford to sit back and reflect on the positives from the season’s first ten games.
Onward to November.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.