Tyler J. Altemose
You wouldn't know it by looking at the NHL standings, but the Flyers have been having difficulty playing full 60-minute games lately.
Tonight's contest against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes proved to be no different.
The Coyotes, coming into tonight's game with a 7-game win streak, were looking to take it to the Eastern Conference-leading Orange and Black.
The Flyers put Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes this evening. He faced off against Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov has been impressive lately, as tonight was his 19th straight start for the Coyotes. He had won 7 straight before this evening's game and is one of the league leaders in games won this season.
As if having to deal with Bryzgalov wasn't enough, the Flyers have also been reeling physically lately. Forward Blair Betts was sidelined due to his finger injury, and defenseman Sean O'Donnell is out 10-14 days with a knee injury. Oskars Bartulis filled in as the sixth defenseman. He was paired with Andrej Meszaros.
And as the neverending saga continues, Nikolay Zherdev was a healthy scratch.
The Flyers started off strong, but their defense began having issues with turnovers already late in the first period, coughing up several chances for the 'Yotes which were put aside by Bobrovsky.
Ville Leino drew first blood for the Orange and Black, however, netting his 14th of the year by deflecting a Matt Carle shot past Bryzgalov.
The second period was markedly more intense, with both teams playing a more physical game.
Things took a turn for the serious when former Flyer Scottie Upshall threw a late shoulder hit on Oskars Bartulis. Bartulis was thrown awkwardly into the boards. He left the game in obvious pain and would not return. He is scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow per the team.
Fortunately for the Flyers, Paul Holmgren explained to the media that Sean O'Donnell's knee injury isn't a ligament issue. This means that he could return as early as Thursday, saving the Flyers a lot of hassle with calling up a player from the Phantoms and dealing with the inevitable cap issues.
Captain Mike Richards commented on the recent span of injuries that has plagued the team.
"We've prided outselves all year on playing with four lines and six defensemen," said the star forward. "When you have that out of your lineup, we're a little bit of a depleated team, I guess."
Soon afterward, heavyweights Jody Shelley and Nolan Yonkman squared off. Although he took a nasty punch to face which caused him to require 60 stitches, Shelley landed enough heavy punches of his own to win the decision.
Bobrovsky remained strong throughout the second, and for the twelfth time this season the Flyers shut out their opponents through two periods.
That, of course, did not last.
Just 2:44 into the third period, Eric Belanger scored on a wrister after receiving a cross-ice pass from behind the net courtesy of Radim Vrbata.
Several minutes later, Taylor Pyatt scored on a wrister that was horrendously misplayed by Bobrovsky. It put Phoenix up 2-1 and may have been the turning point in the game.
The Flyers put up a valiant effort toward the waning minutes of the contest, scrounging several opportunities in and around the net. With just over a minute to go, Bobrovsky left the net in favor of the extra attacker.
[We're going to file that move under "Superb Technical Moves by Peter Laviolette".]
With only 1:13 remaining in the game--and with the Flyers down 2-1--Claude Giroux managed to get a shot off while being knocked to the ice in front of the net, seemingly to the surprise of Bryzgalov. He netted his 21st of the season.
Giroux's heroics tied the game late and salvaged a point for the Flyers.
Unfortunately for the Orange and Black, that was all that would be salvaged.
Early on in the overtime period, defenseman Kimmo Timonen took a (questionable) hooking call after being stripped of the puck in the corner boards. The 4-on-3 was too much to the Flyers to handle (especially with Timonen not being one of the three available), and Coyotes captain Shane Doan netted the game-winner after defenseman Andrej Meszaros lost his stick.
Head coach Peter Laviolette was not happy about the call after the game during his media session.
"I didn't like it. I didn't like that one or a lot of others. You know, we're preaching discipline in there. That's all we talk about is staying out of the box. We'll kill the ones we have to, but the game's on the line, points on the line--there's things that are really valuable and important at this time of the year. I didn't like it. I didn't like the call. There's a lot of stick work that goes on. You know, we're fighting around that net offensively--I just didn't like the call. The four on three, when, like I said, points are important this time of year. We'll kill the ones we have to."
Despite the loss, Richards tried to put a positive spin on things.
"It was good. They have a good team--really fast. I think the pace of play was good tonight. We played well. We had a lot of chances. They were very opportunistic, and they got the last shot."
The New York Islanders come into town on Thursday at 7:00pm, as the Flyers look to bounce back from tonight's tough loss.