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About That Flyers Loss in Buffalo… Briere Line Strikes, But Team Defense Lapses

Apr 13, 2011, 4:44 PM EDT

Sabres win Excuse our lack of interest in saying much about last night’s Philly sports landscape. On the morning after, we’re still feeling about the same, which is to say more interested in gearing up for what will happen tonight than harping about a wasted sporting Friday (other than the Sixers, who managed a win). But, we do have just a few words about the Flyers to start it up today. 

The Orange & Black did little to instill confidence in the playoff hopes of their fans, looking good early but ultimately failing to finish off a team they may face in the first round (if they’re lucky). The Penguins won in a shootout and took over a share of the Atlantic Division lead for the time being, and the Caps put the top seed in the East on ice simply by watching the Flyers lose. So what can we take from this game, if anything?

PROS
On the bright side, it was good to see the Briere line come to life, with Danny and Scott Hartnell each feeding each other for goals. Briere set up Hartnell from his office, and Scottie found a way to get the puck elevated from in close. Harts later fed Briere on a 2-on-1, and Danny found twine. Ville Leino was somewhat invisible, but it reminds me this was a line that didn’t come to life until the postseason started last year anyway. Maybe Friday night’s offensive jumpstart will get them going as a unit in time for the first round. Interestingly enough given that this game came in Briere’s former home, his 33rd goal of the season marks a career high. 

Kris Versteeg looked energized early, scoring his first in a while on a shorthanded rush. I don’t want to say he’s been a bust so far, but I don’t think “disappointment” would be a stretch either. Considering he’ll be here for a while and not just serve as a late-season rental, it’s far too early to look at the trade value lost in a top pick being sent to Toronto for him. But the Flyers are in win-now mode, and he hasn’t done a lot to help in that regard. However, similar to the Briere line, we’re hoping Versteeg’s goal in the penultimate game of the season will help light him up for the playoffs. We’ll see. 

Claude Giroux notched his 51st assist, which was also his 100th NHL helper. No Flyer has had as many as 51 assists since the guy G is often compared to, Peter Forsberg (’05-’06).

Once again there were some saves by Sergei Bobrovsky that kept the Flyers in this one. Could he have come up with a few more? Sure, but that would have been asking a lot, and this one wasn’t on him by any stretch. 

BLOWS
The defense’s inability to clear screens got the better of them again, and they also showed a susceptibility to odd-man rushes that left Bobrovsky high and dry. Nathan Gerbe deserves praise for his two-goal night, but especially this:

That’s just gorgeous on Gerbe’s part. However, if Sean O’Donnell clears the screen rather than doubles it, Bob eats that thing up. Setting a screen isn’t the most novel concept in hockey, but we’re seeing teams do it very well against the Flyers. 

The hallmark of this team’s off season was adding defensive depth. Lately, we just haven’t seen the benefits of that. Maybe when Pronger’s back we will. 

Odd-man rushes also led to Sabres goals, with one coming on a Sabre joining the rush off the bench, but the other one—the OT winner—highlighted another major Flyer problem lately. Hartnell blindly threw a puck into the offensive zone slot, perhaps forgetting that with only four skaters on the ice, it’s a lot less likely someone will be there. The rush went the other way, Matt Carle fell, and the game was over. 

Just a disaster at both ends. The Flyers continue to be a little too confident with the puck, either in carrying it too long into traffic or making passes that end up on the stat sheet as turnovers. 

This was an important game against a team they may see in the postseason, and despite a strong first period, the Flyers let up and the Sabres showed them what any playoff-caliber team is capable of doing if you back off.

Full highlights:

Tonight, the Flyers will host the Islanders in the regular season finale. Win, and they still take the Atlantic Division and lock up the second seed despite a woeful month of hockey, regardless of what Pittsburgh does in their final game. Lose, and they extend their season-long losing streak to six games and add a new line to the definition of backing into the playoffs, especially if the Pens win their final game and take the Atlantic in the season’s final weekend.  

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