NEWARK – Even the best defensive effort can be undermined by one glaring error and that’s just what happened to do in the Flyers on Saturday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils.
The Flyers were staying close, trailing only 1-0, when a power play came to an end early in the second period.
Second-year defenseman Travis Sanheim tried an ill-advised pass to sidekick Ivan Provorov but second-year center Nico Hischier stepped between the two defenders, took off the length of the ice and beat goalie Carter Hart five-hole with a backhander at 5:08 to make it 2-0.
The Flyers eventually dropped a 3-2 decision at the Prudential Center.
This was a game the Flyers were hoping to win to jump over the Devils and get out of the Metropolitan Division cellar.
Instead, the Flyers are now three points behind New Jersey.
The Sanheim blunder just seemed to deflate the Flyers’ bench and while they did manage to score two goals later in the game, this miscue really made the difference in the outcome.
Coach Scott Gordon said there were also misplays on the Devils’ third goal, creating adversity just too great to overcome.
“Two mistakes that don’t have to happen,’’ he said. “Self-inflicted wounds on goal number two and goal number three.’’
Sanheim shouldn’t take all the blame for this loss. Others were complicit.
“I feel there are a lot of players who are playing the right way,’’ Gordon said. “But it doesn’t really matter how many guys are playing the right way if you have two costly mistakes — two that you can’t outscore.
“So for all the good 10, 15 players do, you have those mistakes which are self-inflicted. It wasn’t great plays by them that set up the two goals. It was decisions by us that were poor decisions.’’
Sanheim faced the music after the game and accepted the blame.
“Obviously it’s a play I want back,’’ he said. “Have to make a stronger play there. You give a skill player like that a breakaway, he’s not going to miss too often.
“It’s frustrating. . .you play well, you get your chances, a couple mistakes and they end up in the back of your net. That second goal is on me, for sure.’’
Robert Hagg, who was on the ice for New Jersey’s third goal, said the Flyers can’t afford any lapses in play.
The Flyers seemed to have corrected some mistakes in Thursday night’s 2-1 win over Dallas, then went back to some bad habits.
“Right now we’re just finding ways to lose,’’ he said. “I think we played well in some moments of the game but it’s not good enough.
“As defensemen, we’re not moving the puck quickly enough. We’re putting ourselves in bad situations back there.’’
James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier scored for the Flyers, who couldn’t seem to solve rookie goalie MacKenzie Blackwood.
The Devils got off to a 1-0 lead in this contest, with Damon Severson connecting at 6:32 of the first period.
Drew Stafford made a nice play on the goal, stopping a puck at the blue line and spotting Severson open in the left circle for a high, short-side shot past Hart.
After the Hischier goal, van Riemsdyk scored his third goal in the last six games.
JVR got loose on a semi-breakaway, skated in and beat Blackwood with a high shot at 15:51.
But New Jersey restored the two-goal lead at 1:18 of the third when Miles Wood batted a rebound out of the air past Hart, who has yet to win a road game in his first three attempts.
Couturier scored with two seconds to play to account for the final score.
There was a tone of frustration in Couturier’s voice as he discussed the Flyers’ return to choppy play.
“A lot of unforced errors, turnovers, we kind of forced things and couldn’t get anything going off the rush,’’ he said. “When it’s tough to score, you want to shoot more pucks.’’
The Flyers fell to 1-7-2 in their last 10 games.
Jori Lehtera and Andrew MacDonald were the scratches for the Flyers. . .The Flyers had a golden shorthanded opportunity in the second period when Radko Gudas broke in alone and got a shot on Blackwood, who left a fat rebound. Scott Laughton’s backhand follow-up at an open net went over the crossbar. . .The Flyers’ minus-37 is the NHL’s worst negative team goal differential. . .Couturier’s assist on the JVR goal was his 300th NHL point. . .The last time two rookie goaltenders appeared in a Flyers-Devils game was on March 11, 1987 when the Flyers’ Ron Hextall and the Devils’ Craig Billington squared off.