PHILADELPHIA — It took 24 seconds for the unlikeliest big story in the NHL to do its work.
The Arizona Coyotes don’t just kill penalties, they annihilate them. They’ve scored five more goals on their penalty kill than goals they’ve allowed and scored a pair of shorties on the same Flyers power play Thursday night.
That kind of embarrassment took a while to get over and the Flyers eventually overcame it for a 5-4 overtime win. Somehow.
If Monday was an ugly win, Thursday’s was hideous. But winning cures everything.
“I said it a couple weeks ago: sometimes you’ve got to just sack up and get a character win and that’s what tonight was,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Coming off a long West Coast trip, playing a couple of days later, whatever it is, you know there’s gonna be some tough moments, some sloppy play. We showed that. We had some uncharacteristic play and turnovers from some guys, especially in the first half of the hockey game and that put us in a bad spot, yet guys had the resiliency and the push and the drive and togetherness to push it back in the other direction.”
Thursday night was like a three-act play.
The Flyers did everything they couldn’t in their first six home games: they scored first and started strong. It was especially impressive because the first game following a road trip, as Hakstol brought up, is so true that it’s not really cliché. Then they folded like a cheap suit on their penalty kill, once again, and didn’t start working their way back to victory until there was a lot more bleeding.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Gostisbehere said. “We go up two, everyone thinks we’re turning the page here and then we give up four right away and then come back and win. I mean, we like to make it interesting, I guess, but it was good to get two points in front of our fans the way we did it. It was awesome.”
Dale Weise punctuated the comeback with his first goal of the season with 2:13 left in regulation when Shayne Gostisbehere fed him a pass for a breakaway and he roofed it over Darcy Kuemper, whom the Flyers have now beaten in consecutive games. Gostisbehere won it 61 seconds into overtime.
What blown lead?
“You know what, that’s something we definitely have to continue to work on,” Weise said. “I felt like as soon as they scored that power-play goal in the first period…to come off a long road trip like that, it’s always tough to get the energy level and momentum early. I thought we had a great start and then you could just see it deflated us. That can’t happen, especially at home here. We’ve got to find a way to get right back after it. Credit to us for rebounding, but I just think that took way too long for us to get back into it.”
Here are four more takeaways from Thursday night’s game…
Not so special teams
The Flyers have had a bad penalty kill for half a decade. It’s not new and while they’ve made a couple adjustments to defend teams entering the zone, there has been very little change once they get set up. Because they’ve allowed a goal on the PK in each of the last nine games, they’re in such a hole that no one wants to make the big mistake so they’re already behind the 8-ball.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored through traffic to make it a 2-1 game and that’s the goal that Weise thought took the wind out of the Flyers’ sails.
Add that to a disastrous power play and special teams essentially take the team out of the game. If it were a playoff series, the Flyers would be written off before Game 1.
The first shorthanded goal was a bit of bad luck because Gostisbere couldn’t dig the puck out of linesman Michel Cormier’s skates. The second one was just brutal. Ivan Provorov and Wayne Simmonds ran into one another and Michael Grabner scored on a breakaway to end Cal Pickard’s night.
“That was bruts,” Gostisbehere said. “It is what it is. We won. It’s over.”
These two facets of the game are what the Flyers need to shore up most. Especially in the playoffs, the common line is “it comes down to special teams.” Add the Flyers’ 26th-ranked power play (14.5 percent) to their tied-for-last penalty kill (68.4 percent) and the penalty kill would still only be ranked ninth in the league at 82.9 percent.
For Weise and Laughton to have multi-point nights was a huge boost for themselves and the team. Usually when a team is down in the third period, the coach would shorten the bench. Since the top line didn’t have much going after Travis Konecny scored the game’s first goal, Hakstol didn’t have much of a choice but to expand things to players like Weise and Laughton who were running all night.
“First shift you can feel your legs going and stuff like that,” said Laughton, who had two goals and is the Flyers’ first repeat winner of their player-of-the-game motorcycle helmet. “I don’t think I had the best West Coast trip when our team played well. I wanted to play better and help this team. Good effort by our group tonight and the biggest thing is we gotta follow it up on Saturday.”
“It’s great. It feels great (to score),” Weise said. “The situation to tie the game like that, it feels better. I’m not a guy that really stresses over points. I’ve been all around it. I know it’s gonna come. I don’t judge myself on goals. I think I’ve been playing well so that feels good to me and it obviously feels good to score.”
Once the Flyers got to overtime, there was a this-won’t-happen-twice kind of feeling to it. The only loss the Flyers had on the road trip was in San Jose, when there was a loose puck in overtime and neither Gostisbehere, Jake Voracek nor Claude Giroux went for it. Logan Couture did and Timo Meier scored.
Voracek was the only one that reacted that night, and he was late. This time he had a look in his eye like he was going to punish anyone who got in his way. The San Jose game was in their mind before Gostisbehere scored his third of the season.
“Definitely crept in my mind there,” Gostisbehere said, “but the guys that went out there first had a great first shift, did their job and we had an opportunity to go up…I kind of cheated a little bit. I stayed up and I knew Jakey was gonna win the battle — just go with that — and he made a great play. I knew I just had to find a hole for him and he made a great play.”
• An interesting wrinkle to this game was Hakstol recognizing the need for speed. Usually Jori Lehterä is the veteran that the Flyers deem reliable enough to take shifts away from more inexperienced players. Thursday night he didn’t see a shift after the midway point of the game. Even Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who has been the least-used player since he was called up, saw more ice in the game.
• Quote of the night goes to Dave Hakstol. Yes, really. Here he was on the importance of getting the fan support back behind the team after the team was booed off the ice after two periods.
“It’s huge. We gotta do that. That onus is on us. Our effort. Our intensity. Our play. You saw what the place was like in the third period. I really believe that the people that are in the seats, the people that are fans of the Flyers, they want effort. They want compete and when they see that, it’s not just about the result. They want that gritty— uh, I can’t believe I just used that word. Check, please.”
Gritty wasn’t available for comment after the game.
• Gostisbehere’s overtime goal was the sixth of his career. Only Voracek (7) and Giroux (10) have more. It was also his second consecutive multi-point game. He’s heating up.
FLYERS 5, COYOTES 4 (OT) vs. Chicago BlackhawksWhen: 1 p.m., SaturdayTV/Radio: NBCSP/97.5 FM
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