Soft Goals, Rancid Defense, Questionable Decisions -- All in a Night's Loss, Leafs 4 - 2 Flyers

by Michael DeNicola

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 --

I'd like to start off by saying that I had the luxury of attending last night's tilt, and despite the loss, I had a great time. I always do in that building, however, I have never heard our barn more quiet than it was last night. I mean, I guess you could credit that to the slow start, the constant stops in play, or the fact no one's genuinely enthusiastic on a Monday, but that place was so dead that I heard the text alert on the guy's phone next to the middle of the 2nd period.

One of the few times our arena lit up the decibel levels was when Tye McGinn and Leafs brute Mike Brown went toe-to-toe in a round of fisticuffs late in the opening frame. 

The score had been tied, and the shot-count was low from both benches. The crowd was beginning to lose interest, so a fight was a welcomed change in pace. Brown had been looking for a fight all period long, throwing dirty hits on Rinaldo along the cornerboards and yapping at Simmonds like a drunk at a bar, depressed and down on his luck. Finally, Tye bought in and the two tossed their gloves and helmets aside to square off. 

At first, McGinn caught Brown with a few healthy jabs which seemed to disorient the tough customer. But Toronto's chippy critter regained his focus and began laying knuckles up and down McGinn's dome piece.

In an instant, Brown switched from leading with his right fist to his left, catching Tye off-guard and his face completely vulnerable. Punches connected, splitting Tye's forehead and causing him to bleed almost instantly. With no time wasted, Brown brought the finishing blow which -- from where I saw it in my seat -- rocked McGinn to his core, and crumbled the kid to the ice quicker than a boner at an old folks home. 

Yea, we'll give the win to Mike Brown there, for sure. Luckily Tye took the defeat admirably, got his face repaired in the dressing room, and returned to the frozen pond later on in the tilt. 

You could say Brown's victory delivered the message to his bench, seeing how it was the Leafs who opened the scoring on an incredibly weak snap-shot taken by Phil Kessel to round out the 1st period. 

It's bad enough Timonen got beat wide, but it sucks watching Bryzgalov continue down his cold streak like this. Kessel comes storming in from Bryz's left flank, and on a bad-angle shot, Kessel beats Bryzgalov farside to make it a 1 - 0 game. 

Why Ilya was hugging the post so hard on that situation, I'll never know. Phil's passing lane between himself and van Riemsdyk was completely clogged by Luke Schenn, so I think Kessel was trying to manufacture a ricochet off of Bryzgalov's body to set JVR up for the garbage goal. Instead, the puck found its way lazily in the twine. 

Bryzgalov is a big human-being. He has size, and uses it to his advantage. Coming out of his crease just a bit would have shrunk the holes behind him in his net. And considering Kessel was coming in from a poor angle, you'd think any attempt he puts on net from there would fail. Especially with a 6'3", 215-pound wildebeest minding the cage. 

Look, I don't care if your blue line ranks 30th in the League in every category. In a situation like that, as a goalie, you must trust your defenseman to clear the porch (in this case, Luke Schenn neutralizing JVR) and challenge the possession (Kessel). That goal's on Bryzgalov, no doubt about it. 

Toronto struck again in the 2nd to put them up 2 - 0 over the Flyers, and this time the goal came off a backhanded shot from Nikolai Kulemin. 

Catching the Flyers on a poor shift-change, Kulemin took a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone and charged the open lane virtually uncontested. Briere and Brayden Schenn did their best to catch Nik, but it was once again up to our 32-year old netminder to cut the head off a 1-on-1 chance. 

Maybe next time, Bryz. And then maybe next time after that. And that. And that. Oh, and that. 

Another weak shot let in by a goaltender who literally couldn't be any worse against the 1-on-1. Whether it's a shootout, a breakaway, or an opponent left wide open to feast on Bryzgalov's weakness, we can almost guarantee a goal against us in these situations. 

I don't want to hear "he's tired" or "he's started too many games in a row!" Bryzgalov average 63.5 starts per season in Phoenix for the 'Yotes. He's a workhorse, and gets paid like one. His problem is not that he's tired. His problem is that he's awful, predictable and easily beatable on the 1-on-1 against him, and continually fails to steal a game in these situations. 

I'm not turning on Bryzgalov. He makes great saves. To be fair, he made a handful last night that kept us dangling in contention. But these were two pucks he most certainly should have stopped. I'll give Toronto their props, but the Flyers did everything they could to cripple themselves and their chances last night. Whether it was poor goaltending, not capitalizing more than once on seven man-advantages, or lousy performances from some of your key players. 

Kimmo Timonen had his worst game of the season last night, by far. Even through the fog of a bad outing, #44 realized the effort shown on the ice was unacceptable, and has been unacceptable over the majority of the 21-games played so far this year. 

"We can talk in the room as much as we want, once we go on the ice, everyone has to show up and [have a sense of urgency]," said Timonen. "It comes from the 20 guys in this room to do it on the ice, not here [in the locker room]. 

"We can talk about the urgency, whatever great word you want to make up but it has to happen there [on the ice]. For some reason we haven't been able to do that. Like I said it's been two periods, 35 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe once or twice in these 21 games we've played a full 60 minutes so far."

Once or twice? What are these guys waiting for? An invitation? 

Every game counts as two-points in the standings, but in a condensed schedule, each game factors in more than double what it'd be worth in normal circumstances. In cases like this abbreviated season, you only have a short window of time to collect a string of wins and get yourselves comfortably in contention. 

Philadelphia's failed to get to .500 once more (9 - 11 - 1), and their window is closing. We've got three more contests to get through before we've officially made it to the midway point of the season. By then, the Flyers have no choice but to enter the latter half with momentum. To make it to the Playoffs, teams will need to add to their win-columns in lump sums, and those who continue to play inconsistently will quickly dwindle on the outside looking in. 

But getting back to this tilt, I could not fathom why defenseman Erik Gustafsson saw 20:08 of ice-time. I'm aware that Gus has quite the strong following here in town, but after last night's circuit, his stock has dropped considerably by my standards. 

The young blue liner saw more minutes than any defenseman other than Braydon Coburn, who collected only 9-seconds more than Gus. 

In a must-win game, Gus was never once pulling his weight by any means. However, Laviolette insisted on throwing him on the ice in every offensive and defensive situation. When Bryzgalov was pulled with a minute remaining, it was Gustafsson who manned our blue line in Toronto's zone. 

As the puck was cycled throughout the Leafs' end, it was distributed backward for Gustafsson to collect and keep the chance alive. Instead, Erik fumbled the pass and turned it over to Jay McClement who took it up ice and brought the house down with an empty netter. 

Gustafsson's hesitation through the evening was noticeable and infuriating. His play behind Bryzgalov's twine was about as effective as surgical glue on a grenade wound.

After witnessing his play firsthand, I cannot say anything except that I pray Andrej Meszaros gets back in gear as quickly as possible (which, FYI, is slated to be next week).

There were a few bright sides to last night's lethargic effort. Jakub Voracek mastered his eighteenth and nineteenth point in 10-games with one PP goal and an assist. Claude Giroux continues to roll through the scoresheet with an assist on both Flyers goals. And Scott Hartnell delivered his season's first lit lamp after depositing the puck off of a pass from Jake the Snake.

Great to see you back, Scotty. 

And what would a Flyers-Leafs match be without some extracurriculars and chirps from the players? Zac Rinaldo wore a microphone in last night's tilt, which CSN took full advantage of, and thank god they did.

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Rinaldo's choice words to Leafs star Phil Kessel were, "I'm gonna catch you with your head down tonight. Gonna take it off." The video then cuts to a scene where he drew a penalty from Mike Brown.

Brown decided to verbally dish his objection towards Rinaldo. Rhino then followed that up with a devious chuckle and said, "Get in the box, bitch," while pointing towards the sin bin. 

Rinaldo's been more and more effective offensively through the past couple weeks. He unleashed an outstanding performance against the Jets three nights ago, and whether he's putting the puck on net, delivering crunching hits, or drawing minor penalties to put his Club on the man-advantage, Zac's developed into quite the energized weapon. It's also worth noting that no one's dropped the gloves with him ever since he turned BJ Crombeen's brains into a box of rocks

Zac is definitely growing on me, and I've been inspired to create the following photo:

Let's see if the Flyers can get back on a run Wednesday night when we welcome the Washington Capitals to town, 7:30, broadcasted on TSN and NBC Sports (get ready for a whole 'lotta Pierre). 

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