One of Peter Laviolette’s focus points with the Flyers this week was the average 8-6-2 record the team had on home ice heading into tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. A second point was to move past the loss at the Winter Classic and start the second half of the season on a good foot.
The Flyers held off a late third period rally to add another notch in the “win” column, outscoring the ‘Hawks 5-4.
The Blackhawks pressed early in the first period, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone. A bad clear by Zac Rinaldo moments after he stepped on the ice was picked up by defenseman Jamal Meyers and fed to rookie Jimmy Hayes for the first goal of the game.
Rinaldo fought fellow rookie Andrew Shaw seconds after the next puck drop in an attempt to win the crowd back and dropped Shaw in a bloody heap in the process. Shaw remarked after the game that Rinaldo was “a respected player in this league”; in case you couldn’t tell, this was his first NHL game.
Jake Voracek tied the game with under a minute remaining, collecting a rebound from a Braydon Coburn shot off the backboards and firing it top shelf on former Flyer Ray Emery.
The second period opened with the Flyers buzzing the Blackhawks net, but the scoring chances shifted between both ends until Shaw capitalized on a clash between the sticks of Kimmo Timonen and Ilya Bryzgalov to grab the lead again.
Seventeen seconds later, Scott Hartnell scored to tie the game and swung momentum the other direction. Hartnell is now tied with Claude Giroux for the team lead in goals (18).
Harry Zolnierczyk scored his third of the season thanks to a great pass through the crease from Sean Couturier. Rinaldo, who had a hell of a backcheck earlier in the shift, may have distracted Emery as he flipped over his pads a second before the goal.
James van Riemsdyk padded the lead after picking up the rebound off a shot from Wayne Simmonds.
The Flyers held onto the lead until a brief collapse late in the third period. Brent Seabook and Patrick Kane pressured the defense into two turnovers in the defensive zone that Bryzgalov couldn’t cover for.
Harry Z spoke about the team’s mentality on the bench at that moment saying, “Yeah, I mean let’s pick it up here, let’s not let this happen again.”
“We’re kind of sick and tired of dropping games in the end there. It’s great that we found a way.”
The referees kept the game to a good pace by not calling many penalties, but a high-stick from Kane gave the Flyers one last opportunity with the man advantage. With 32 second remaining, JVR captured the game winning goal.
In discussing JVR’s success tonight following a scoring slump, Laviolette said, “I think generally speaking about players, there are always peaks and valleys through the course of a year. The job is to try and get everybody firing. When your team is firing well and lots of guys are going, you find yourself putting wins in the columns.”
It’s still discomforting that the Flyers almost blew another two goal lead this week, but there are plenty of hockey games left for the team to hone their game. One of the causes of their breakdowns was the absence of Kimmo Timonen, who took limited shifts in the first and second period before leaving the game with an “upper body injury.”
Timonen was seen after the game with his left wrist in a cast and will have further tests run tomorrow. He didn’t look to be in any pain, but the “glass half empty” side of my personality thinks he will miss games ahead.
It’s an injury that the Flyers can not afford right now but it’s likely one they’re going to have to deal with. General manager Paul Holmgren’s M.O. is to wait things and out and see how the team reacts, which means Erik Gustafsson could return to Philadelphia on Saturday in their matinee game against the Ottawa Senators.
In the meantime, Holmgren will have to start making phone calls again and consider giving up more assets than he’d like to if the team doesn’t respond with another notch in the “win” column.
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