Flyers lack offense in Game 1 loss
When the Philadelphia Flyers went into their Game 1 matchup with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, it was their defense and goaltender that faced the most scrutiny. In the final stretch of their season, the Flyers struggled to maintain focus on the defensive end of the ice and rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky did the same.
However, in Game 1 it was the Flyers’ offense that failed to live up to the billing as Ryan Miller and the Sabres took the series opener, 1-0.
How surprising was it that the Flyers couldn’t muster any offense? Considering that Buffalo limited second chances and traffic in front of Miller, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, it wasn’t surprising at all. Philadelphia’s best chances came with the man advantage, and for all of the success that the NHL’s third-highest offense has had this season, its power play has been mediocre. The Broad Street Bullies’ 16.6 percent success rate in the regular season was good for only 19th in the league.
Without defenseman Chris Pronger in the lineup, the power play continued the struggles of the regular season, and it cost the Flyers dearly. It looked like fortunes would change when Sabres defenseman Shaone Morrisonn slashed Mike Richards and gave Philadelphia 38 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period. However, the Flyers could muster only one official shot on net with two extra men on the ice.
Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle was especially disappointed at the wasted opportunity.
“Any time you get the opportunity to have a 5-on-3, I think you need to score,” he stated simply. “It’s one of those things where it’s a momentum killer. The other team picks up momentum as well if they kill it off, so that was a big turning point.”
Despite the lack of potency on the man advantage, the game’s momentum and result still were in doubt entering the third period with zeroes on the scoreboard. Then the first Flyers lapse on defense made all the difference.
Young defenseman Danny Syvret was caught a step behind Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta on a hard rebound after Bobrovsky kicked out his left pad to stop a Marc-Andre Gragnani blast. Kaleta hit the wide-open net with just over 14 minutes remaining in the game to give the Sabres all the scoring they would need.
Although the goal was the most important play of the game, Kaleta downplayed his role in it.
“I just went to the net,” he said. “It started off with a good play by [Nathan Gerbe] down low being hard on the puck and then [Paul Gaustad] with a great pass to [Gragnani] and Grags with a good shot, and I just went to the net and finished my rebound.”
The play was another instance that showed how much the Flyers miss their No. 1 defenseman, Pronger. Syvret’s activation and insertion into the starting lineup was a direct result of Pronger’s inability to recover from hand surgery in time for Game 1. But one play or misplay by Syvret was not the reason the Eastern Conference’s second seed skated off its home ice defeated.
For Philadelphia to be successful in the series, the Flyers will have to find a way to disrupt Buffalo’s ability to play a defensive-minded game. Despite having 35 shots on goal, few were unseen by Miller. The lack of traffic and side-to-side movement made one of the best goalies in the league’s job much easier. And zero goals on 11 shots from the power play unit didn’t help either.
“Obviously we have to get more bodies in front of Ryan [Miller], more screens and tips, and maybe [be] a little more hungry on these pucks,” Flyers captain Richards said. “... Give [the Sabres] credit; they did a good job clearing house and getting second and third opportunities away.”
Buffalo showed off the carbon copy for any team to win on the road in the Stanley Cup playoffs: play well defensively, score late and clamp down on the opposition. It was no surprise that the Sabres performed so well, as they’ve been one of the hottest teams as the season came to a close.
It was Philadelphia’s lack of offense that was the surprise. If the Flyers continue to struggle, it will only be a microcosm of a much bigger surprise to come in the first round.