Simon Gagne returned to Philadelphia on Thursday night for the first time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Former Flyers Steve Downie and defenseman Randy Jones were also in town as the Lightning gained two points over the Flyers in a 3-2 win. The Flyers paid tribute to Gagne with a video of his most memorable moments, which drew a standing ovation from the fans. It’s still a shame that Gagne was forced out by the organization, but that’s what happens when you mismanage contracts in a salary cap system.
It took some time for both teams to find a rhythm in the first period, but the Flyers managed to dominate for long stretches under coach Peter Laviolette’s offensive rush system. The Flyers were running circles around the Lightning throughout the game, but either couldn’t settle the puck or fanned on shots that were golden opportunities. The defense also had an overall good game, especially when you consider how jittery they looked against Pittsburgh last Thursday.
The first two goals for the Lightning came from breakdowns between goaltender Brian Boucher and defenseman Matt Carle. The first goal was scored by Steve Stamkos off a pass from Downie, who was along the boards. Boucher was following the puck closely but was positioned too close to the corner of the net. Once the pass was made, Boosh couldn’t get back fast enough to cover the open side of the net.
The second goal started from a turnover by Carle in the defensive end in the second period. Boosh was able to stop the first shot on goal, but let up a rebound that was sent back in through his five hole by Dominic Moore. Carle was behind Moore and couldn’t control him.
In between those goals was the first goal of the season and 100th career goal for Nikolay Zherdev, who has been playing on a line with James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux. Zherdev rushed to the net and banked JVR’s pass perfectly into the back of the net. Moving James Van Riemsdyk to the top line in place of Dan Carcillo (who had another adequate if unproductive game) has been talked about, but this line had a strong enough game to keep them together.
The Lightning came out charged in the third, and it was less than two minutes before Pavel Kubina fired the eventual game winning goal through Boucher’s five hole. I’ve given Boosh a fair share of credit for his play in the preseason and in the loss against St. Louis, but his play tonight wasn’t anything to write home about. He wasn’t awful, but two of those goals were preventable and the third he should have never given up. You could tell by the way he slammed his stick into the crease afterwards that he was just as disappointed as I was
Briere rocketed a wrister over the blocker of goaltender Dan Ellis at 10:00 of the third, who was caught in the butterfly. The team seemed to gain some momentum for a few moments until James Van Riemsdyk was called on a hooking penalty.
What appear to be continuing trends for the Flyers are the success of the penalty kill and the failure of the powerplay. The penalty kill was once again aggressive and terrifying for the Lightning, who came into the game with a strong powerplay unit. Richards and Giroux have amazing chemistry on the PK and both had numerous shorthanded opportunities. The only problem with the penalty kill is how often it has had to be thrown on the ice. The Flyers were responsible for six penalties during the game, including a delay of game penalty with 5:19 remaining that the Flyers probably wish they had back.
I don’t know where to begin with the powerplay.
As a final note, Ellis was one of the free agent goaltenders that the Flyers could have acquired in the offseason. He signed a two-year, $3.0 million deal with Tampa and had a solid win in his first game with the Lightning. While the knock on Ellis is that no one knows yet if he has what it takes to be a starter, it will be interesting to compare his season to that of goaltender Michael Leighton’s, who the Flyers opted to re-sign to almost an identical contract.
The Flyers face off against the Penguins on Saturday, which was moved to a 6:00 start to conflict less with the Phillies.