Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Flyers can't solve problem of Nabokov, lose in shootout

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

One of the questions asked early on in the classic film The Sound of Music, is "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"

Transfer that sentiment 47 years into the future and uproot the location from Austria to Philadelphia, then alter the query to include the New York Islanders starting goaltender, and there is still no real answer.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 45 shots in regulation and made two relatively easy saves in the shootout, while his counterpart Ilya Bryzgalov showed his weakness again by failing to stop either shootout chance.

It didn't matter that Bryzgalov also recorded a shutout in a 1-0 Islanders victory, or that he vacuumed up all 18 New York opportunities through the game's first 65 mninutes; all that was left was a bitter aftertaste and an off-key tune as the 36-year-old Nabokov worked his magic for the second straight time at the Wells Fargo Center.

As in a 4-1 loss here on January 19 when Nabokov singlehandedly put an end to the Islanders' 13-game losing streak in Philly with 40 saves, the struggling Flyers failed to mount a serious attack despite an avalanche of pucks on goal.

"They were all decent and quality shots,” Nabokov gamely admitted. “Sometimes you get a rebound, a weird bounce and they go in. That is just the way the game is.”

But for the Orange and Black, who have dropped three straight games -- all to division foes in an atypically competitive Atlantic Division -- all that was left was to play up the positives in another effort which came up short.

"I was happy with the way we played. Their goalie played really well. If we play like that, we’ll win a lot of games," said Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "That’s our hockey. We skate, we hit, we force teams to turn the puck over. We had chances, but he made the saves. We didn't get the extra point, but the effort was clearly there.”

While true compared with losses by a combined five goals to the Devils and Rangers over the weekend, it's tough to find true moral victories in a game where you're held scoreless.

That's where Nabokov was head and shoulders (and pads, and waffle and glove) above Bryzgalov.

In the shootout, Frans Nielsen -- he of the new four-year contract worth a reported $11 million -- took the first shot and scored with ease. Danny Briere was first up for Philly, and, in his first action since suffering a concussion at New Jersey on January 21, failed to score.

John Tavares was up next for New York and had an even easier time rippling the back of the net.

Though Claude Giroux admitted following the game that he was tabbed to be the third shooter, things never got that far. Wayne Simmonds was the second shooter in the sequence and though he worked several stick fakes into his approach, eventually pushed a shot into Nabokov's pads to end the contest.

And so, Nabokov ran his record to 7-2-0 in his last nine starts and turned in his second whitewash of the season. It also pushed the Islanders to the .500 mark at 22-22-8.

Bryzgalov dropped his third straight start despite producing his second shutout of the year and first since the second game of the season, back on October 8, at Newark.

The visitors recorded the best chance early in the game, as P.A. Parenteau ripped a shot on net from a 2-on-1 break roughly four minutes in, but Bryzgalov flashed the right pad. Seconds later, Michael Grabner fumbled the puck in front and failed to squeeze off a round.

Kyle Okposo cranked a shot off the post midway through, and in a scoreless opening period the hosts claimed a 10-7 shot advantage.

Despite increased pressure, the Flyers couldn't figure out until halfway through the contest that they needed to close in around the crease to have any chance to make like Roxanne and put on the red light.

That chance finally came while shorthanded in the final six minutes of the second, as Max Talbot raced in alone and shoveled a backhander on goal that Nabokov anticipated and made a lightning-quick sprawling stop in the paint.

Then, with Parenteau off for slashing at the end of the play, Nabokov flashed the right pad to deny Jaromir Jagr from the slot.

Two more short-handed chances near the end of the period also went by the wayside, as Matt Read's blast from in close was turned away and Jakub Voracek narrowly missed the left post while cruising through the slot.

Philly had 16 more cracks at the Islanders' net in the final 20 minutes of regulation without success.

For New York, its only dangerous chance in overtime came with 1:15 gone, as Matt Moulson capitalized off some lax defense to creep in close, but he missed high and wide. Read managed to unleash one more chance off the rush in the final seconds but Nabokov saw it all the way.

While the effort behind the loss tonight was far better than the one 19 days ago, the song remained the same from a noticeably quieter Peter Laviolette, who offered little in the way of answers or insight.

"Certainly from the last time we played them, we were just able to close it down more defensively. We just couldn't get it past the goaltender again. Though we didn't score, it wasn't from a lack of trying."

Notes: The Flyers fell to 1-5 in shootouts this season and lost three straight contests for the first time all season...The Islanders have won back-to-back games in Philadelphia for the first time since taking four straight during the 2006-07 season...Tuesday's game marked the first time in this long-standing rivalry that a game finished 0-0 after overtime...The last contest between these clubs to end scoreless after regulation came on February 12, 2002 with the Islanders winning on a Mike Peca short-handed goal with nine seconds remaining in overtime...This was also the Flyers' first scoreless game decided in a shootout since a 1-0 victory over Calgary on December 6, 2005...Giroux has failed to produce a goal in 14 of his last 16 games...Philly created 45 shots from 87 total shot attempts.
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