Following two sub-par efforts against the LA Kings and the New York Rangers the Flyers entered Friday’s match-up badly in need of two points to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference. Their opponent, the suddenly inept Toronto Maple Leafs, entered the game having lost six straight contests. The Leafs, tied for the final wildcard spot in the East, had a lot to prove. But it was the orange and black who appeared to be the more desperate team. Behind solid efforts from Vinny Lecavalier, Claude Giroux, and Steve Mason the Flyers pulled out an important 4-2 win. The victory kept the team within one point of the 2nd place Rangers while still having two games in hand.
Here’s a closer look at the action:
- After spending most of the season on the 2nd line alongside Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, head coach Craig Berube decided Vinny Lecavalier needed a wakeup call. So the longtime vet was returned to his natural center position, only on the 4th line. Vinny was clearly upset with the move but he managed to channel that anger into one of his best performances in months. Alongside linemates Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall, Lecavalier was a constantly attacking the Leafs porous defense. Although the 4th line did not manage any points 5-on-5, Vinny put in a rocket one-timer on a 5-on-3 Powerplay for his 16th goal of the season (and the Flyers opening goal). It’s unclear whether Berube will use this game as somewhat of springboard and put the 14-year vet back on the 2nd line or keep him in his natural center spot on the 4th. The Flyers need another big effort Sunday afternoon when they take on the deep and dangerous Boston Bruins.
- Steve Mason managed 32 saves on 34 shots and frequently bailed the Flyers defense out. His yearlong numbers may not reflect it but Mason may be the teams most consistent performer. He will enter Sunday’s matinee with a record of 31-17-6 with a 2.53 GAA and .916sv% (with 4 shutouts).
- Claude Giroux continued his tear as he notched 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists). The Flyers first line (Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek) was the only one that remained unchanged last night and that was clearly a good decision. Giroux now has 78 points (25 goals, 53 assists) after managing just 7 in the seasons first 16 games.
- Zac Rinaldo had an especially good game. In 11:32 of ice time the diminutive but deadly forward drew a pair of Leafs penalties, registered five hits, and won multiple puck battles. Those outside of Philadelphia may not understand the value of the pugnacious Rinaldo, but he’s clearly an important piece of the puzzle.
- Former Flyer James Van Riemsdyk scored another goal against his former team. Just 4 seconds into the the 2nd period, JVR took a Tyler Bozak pass, carried the puck into the left face-off dot in the Flyers zone, and launched a quick shot over the shoulder of Steve Mason. The talented power forward now has 29 goals and 29 assists this season. He actually tied an NHL record for the fastest goal from the start of a period.
- Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf continued his horrendous campaign. He was seemingly on the ice for every nice offensive play the Flyers made last night. It’s amazing how far his stock has fallen over the past two seasons, especially for a player wearing the “C” and making $7+ million. It appears as if 28-year old could be trade bait this summer, though I don’t know what team would trade for that contract (the Flyers?).
- Scott Hartnell continued his bounce back campaign with an important Powerplay deflection in the 2nd period. There have been many who have chastised GM Paul Holmgren for giving Hartnell a long-term contract following last season’s debacle, but he’s clearly regained his chemistry with Giroux and Voracek. Hartnell, 31, now has 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 2013-14.
- Though he hasn’t produced many points since his recall, winger Tye McGinn continues to outplay the injured Steve Downie. McGinn, who is younger and cheaper, provides the same sandpaper in his game while also bringing more offensive ability. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Downie become a healthy scratch when he finally recovers from his last concussion. McGinn took Lecavalier’s place alongside Simmonds and Schenn last night.
With the important victory the Flyers now stand with a record of 39-27-7 (85 points) and hold the third spot in the Metropolitan division. That is somewhat misleading however as the 2nd place Rangers only have 86 points with two more games played. Up next, the Flyers will need to bring their “A” game to knock off the Eastern Conference leading Bruins on Sunday. The game starts at 12:30 and will be televised nationally on NBC.