Phoenix, AZ (AP) - Ilya Bryzgalov is practically unconscious in the net, stopping everything the Coyotes threw at their former goaltender, leading the Flyers to a 2-0 shutout for their sixth straight win. Philadelphia continues to play incredible hockey, now undefeated in regulation (9-0-1) in their last ten games.
"It's been an incredible streak," admitted Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette. "But, as good as it's been, there's still room for improvement. There's always room for improvement. We've played a lot of close games that, frankly, could've gone the other way, too. We could almost as easily be 0-10."
One of the reasons the orange and black have been so successful is the tremendous play of their goaltender. Bryzgalov leads the NHL in goals against average (1.58) and save percentage (.948). It's nights like this one at Phoenix that really make the front office believe they made the right move signing the netminder away from the Coyotes this past summer. And it likely frustrates Phoenix fans, who watched their former goalie stop 44 shots to shut their team out.
"He was unbelieveable out there," said Flyers captain Chris Pronger. "Knowing that he's back there as our last line of defense, it's a huge confidence boost. We know he'll keep us in every game, and that allows us to take some risks that maybe we wouldn't have taken last year. Ilya's great play has a huge impact on our offense."
Hartnell gets the Flyers on the board early with a bullet for a slap shot.
Philadelphia didn't provide a whole lot of offense in this one, either, scoring just two goals. It's really been the same thing all season long. In fact, the Flyers are tied with the Coyotes for the second most anemic offense in the league, averaging just 2.32 goals scored per game. Only the Winnipeg Jets are worse, at 1.76.
But, with Philly being the only team to give up less than two goals a contest on average, the offense doesn't need to get a lot done to win games. And, they've won a lot of games. At 18-6-1, Philadelphia has the second highest point total in the entire NHL. On top of that, they've played two fewer games than top ranked Carolina, who leads by 3 points in the standings.
As it turned out, the orange and black picked up their 18th win of the year just over one minute into their battle with the Coyotes. And, a lot of that was because of a great individual effort by Scott Hartnell. The Flyers forward intercepted a pass in his own defensive zone, carried the puck through the neutral zone and deep into the offensive zone on the right side. He held on to the puck long enough for a good screen to get in front of Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith, then fired a blistering slap shot that hit the upper left corner of the net. Just 1:06 into the game, Philadelphia had a 1-0 lead.
"I was really just trying to get the shot on net and hope for a good rebound that somebody could pound home," said Hartnell. "But, there was enough traffic in front that I was able to hit the back of the net instead. You always love to get out to an early lead like that, especially on the road." It was the second game in the row the Flyers did just that.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: Brayden Coburn took advantage of some traffic in front to give the Flyers all the offense they'd need.
Despite the early goal, the Coyotes applied some early pressure. Just 0:33 after going down by a goal, they nearly got the equalizer. Stempniak took a reboundn off a blocked shot and fired it back on net, but Bryzgalov was able to glove it. And, just three minutes into the period, Phoenix had another quality opportunity when a long shot kicked off Bryzgalov's pad to a waiting Coyote with a seemingly open right side of the net. Again, the Flyers netminder found a way to cover the ground and make the save.
Both teams had powerplay opportunities in the first period. But, neither could really take advantage. Both sides struggled to generate any real good shots, and the score remained 1-0 until there was 5:11 left before the first intermission. Again, the Flyers took advantage of heavy traffic in front of the net. Off a faceoff win, Brayden Coburn rocketed one towards the net. It deflected off a Phoenix player's stick, and that was enough to bounce it off Smith's left pad and into the back of the net.
Matt Carle layed it on the line for the Flyers, giving up his body to block a shot in the 1st period.
"We really try to bang into their heads, when in doubt, fire it at the net. You never know what's going to happen, what kind of bounce you'll get. As long as it's on yet, you've got an opportunity for a goal or a rebound that leads to a goal," said Laviolette.
That was the extent of the scoring. However, it was far from the extent of scoring opportunities, especially for the Coyotes. Philadelphia ended up outshooting Phoenix 14-12 in the first period. But, that was the only time the Flyers would do that.
The next two periods really belonged to the Coyotes, as they dominated the offensive play and Philadelphia just tried to hold on. In fact, Phoenix spent almost the entire first ten minutes of the second period in the Flyers defensive zone. The Coyotes' biggest strategy seemed to involve getting off a lot of shots from the point and charging the net for rebounds.
"They were coming so hard, they knocked the net off a couple times," said Bryzgalov. "We were able to come away with the win, and yes, a lot of those further away shots were easy to stop. But, we've got to clear the zone better, and I've got to do a better job not giving up so many rebounds."
Jakub Voracek sent a message to the Coyotes with his physical play.
In the third period, it was sloppy play that put Philadelphia, and especially its goalie, in a lot of tough positions. Just over five minutes into the period, the Flyers had a bad turnover in their own zone. That led to a near breakaway that caused Betts to take a penalty for tripping. Philly was lucky to avoid a penatly shot, and they managed to kill off that penalty without too much trouble.
Then, with 11:25 left, right winger Boyd Gordon was able to break free with a lot of room. He fired a quality wrist shot from the slot that Bryzgalov was able to glove. Four minutes later, a terrible turnover generated another great chance right in front of the net, but again, Bryzgalov was up to the challenge.
Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr got called for a double minor for high sticking with 2:30 left, putting the Coyotes on the powerplay the rest of the game. Again, Phoenix generated several good scoring chances, including a handful in the last minute when they pulled their goalie in favor of a 6-on-4 advantage. But, they were turned away, and Philadelphia held on.
"That penalty was just stupid on my part," admitted Jagr. "I know better than that to take a penalty, any kind of penalty, that late in the game. I'm just glad it didn't cost us."
After winning both games on their west coast swing, Philadelphia gets a few days off before playing the last leg of their road trip in Buffalo Wednesday night.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS at PHOENIX COYOTES - Dec 3, 2011