Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Blowback from Hurricanes loss and scoring ineptitude

Never mind what one NHL worker might say, Manny Malhotra never before Tuesday night had scored an overtime winner against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The NHL PR machine, through THE pre-eminent stats company, did get one thing right: "Manny Malhotra is first player to score his 1st goal with the team in OT since Jamie McBain on March 20, 2010."

On the much-talked about game-tying goal, coming with 52.3 seconds left in regulation, all eyes turned to Claude Giroux, but retroactively. Activity on Twitter following the 2-1 defeat centered around Giroux supposedly sitting out the entire overtime session, presumably for "blowing coverage" on Jordan Staal's marker. That was later reversed when it was discovered Mon Capitaine skated one shift, but no conclusive evidence emerged tying the pine riding to the late marker.

Give our captain a break. He's not clearly at fault. When one team pulls its goaltender, it creates a man-disadvantage situation. Unlike a power play, it's not one where opposing players can slide into their penalty-killing formation and know how to position oneself -- it's more like a mad scramble once that puck is taken over the attacker's blue line.

He marked Staal as closely as he could without taking a penalty, eyeing him from just in front of the crease. With Eric in the corner holding the puck, there were multiple options to pass. The one he chose, an attempt to the net with two Flyers sticks in between his brother, was risky, but it worked -- and I will chalk this one up to the skill and confidence of the passer and not by any sin of omission in coverage.

So, I'm not going to come down hard on Giroux. As the star player, he's not expected to roam around that deep in the defensive zone first of all, and not when there's an extra skater on the ice when a goaltender is pulled. I'd be more inclined to shift blame onto any one of our defensemen who carry some largesse: Hal Gill, Andrej Meszaros or Nicklas Grossmann, whose area it is to patrol and whose job it is to play shadow on speedy forwards that close.

Besides, Steve Mason clearly took the brunt of the blame onto himself. His body posture after letting that score trickle off his glove and over the goal line says it all. Slumped on his knees, near the left post, away from center ice. He got the Flyers that far, and couldn't take them any further.

Thus, for the first time in more than two decades, the Flyers dropped two games on the road in one season to the Whalers/Hurricanes. It last occurred in the 1990-91 season, when Paul Holmgren's team came up empty in a 1-0 loss on December 22, 1990 and then again in a 5-2 setback on January 26, 1991.

In addition, Mason was tantalizingly close to becoming the first goaltender in Flyers history to record a 1-0 shutout win over the franchise since its 1979 entry from the WHA.

Hartford and Carolina both did it to Philly once each. Darryl Reaugh turned the trick in the above-mentioned tilt with a 26-save effort, then Arturs Irbe clocked in with 31 saves on April 2, 2000. 

That the Flyers have seen a complete lack of offense this year is evident. In 13 of their 14 games so far, the club has failed to connect more than twice. They've already set a franchise record by going the first nine games of the season without scoring more than two goals in any game, but this opening stretch isn't the extent of their futile production.

Under Keith Allen in their second year of existence, the Orange and Black went the first 14 games of the year without scoring at least three times.

Two years later, with Vic Stasiuk at the helm, their production took a vacation from December 10-January 3, failing to score more than twice in any contest for 11 in a row.

During the infamous and still-standing record 12-game winless streak late in the 1998-99 campaign, Roger Neilson couldn't prod the team to score more than three for a nine-game run from March 2-16. That run was only cured with a 5-4 victory over Detroit that gave Philly its first win in almost a month.

John Stevens' first full year behind the bench produced a franchise-record 10 consecutive losses prior to the trade deadline, and in that woeful stretch, the youngsters failed to click more than three times in a 14-game run.

Two seasons after that, Peter Laviolette's reign was not immune from a period as dry as the Sahara. The Eastern Conference champions trudged through a late-season drought of 13 in a row without scoring more than three times.

But the biggest power outage occurred under Ken Hitchcock. No surprises here, but did you know that not once, but TWICE in his first season as head coach the Flyers offense sputtered into double-digit frustration.

Despite an October which saw the O&B strike for 40 goals en route to a 7-1-2 start, production fell faster than Waring Hudsucker from the top floor once the calendar switched to November with 16 consecutive games of three goals or fewer. It happened again mid-season to the tune of 10 straight, and if not for a Jennings Trophy-co-winning goaltending tandem, they would have ended up in worse position than fourth in the East.

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