PHILADELPHIA – “You can’t win ‘em all’’ is a refrain that’s been around about as long as the hockey puck.
Yet it’s still relevant when it comes to the Flyers’ current plight – namely the end of their five-game winning streak following a narrow 3-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Make no mistake, the Flyers played a solid game and trailed by only a goal for most of the evening.
They played a strong enough two-way game to win on most nights but the Coyotes are a defensive buzzsaw this season and scoring chances were few and far between.
The Coyotes hit town with the NHL’s second-best goals-against average and made the Flyers work for every scoring chance they could muster.
When the Flyers did manage to break through Arizona’s spider-web defense, goalie Darcy Kuemper (he of the sub-2 goals-against average) was there to provide a steady blockade.
Only a goal by Matt Niskanen with 4:43 to play prevented the Flyers from being shut out for the first time this season.
In the recent past, the Flyers usually hit a skid after putting together a streak.
But both Jake Voracek and goaltender Brian Elliott said that shouldn’t be the case this time around after a respectable effort against the visitors.
“You can’t win ‘em all, I think the effort was there,’’ Voracek said. “We created a lot. We just have to win Saturday (when Ottawa visits), get on a new streak.’’
Elliott, who held the Coyotes to a single goal until the final seven minutes, voiced similar sentiments.
“We did a good job controlling the pace of play,’’ Elliott said. “As a team, I thought we played really well.
“After winning so much, you expect to (win again). It’s easier to get down on yourself after a loss. But I think we have to take a lot of the positives out of that one. Just move on. You’re not going to win them all in this league. There are going to be games you deserve to win and you don’t. You just have to regroup and come back the next day.’’
The Flyers entered the game riding an 11-game (7-0-4) point streak on home ice but coach Rick Tocchet’s crew – now 10-3-3 on the road – cooled off Philly’s offense, which had cranked out 16 goals in its most recent three wins over Detroit, Montreal and Toronto.
With the win, the Coyotes jumped over idle Edmonton into first place in the Pacific Division.
The Flyers went scoreless in three power-play attempts and now are just four for their last 33 opportunities.
Winning has sort of covered up this problem but at some point it’s going to be an issue.
“It’s like our game tonight, our execution (on the PP) was a little bit off,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had some real good looks. What you have to do is get back to work, stick with the process and next time execute better.’’
Added Matt Niskanen: “Like most power plays, if you can enter the zone cleanly, that helps. Win draws, puck support, net-front presence, crisp puck movement, then take a quality shot. If we get a bit better in all those areas, we’ll get back on track.’’
Arizona took a 1-0 lead at 2:25 of the first period. With Claude Giroux in the penalty box, old Flyers nemesis Phil Kessel worked a nifty give-and-go play with Clayton Keller for a shot past Elliott.
Late in the second period, the Flyers mounted perhaps their best sustained charge of the first 40 minutes. Handed two power plays over the last six minutes of the period, the Flyers got off two close-range shots – the best of the two by Sean Couturier – but Kuemper covered both with ease.
Otherwise, the Flyers were pretty much handcuffed by Arizona’s checking until the goal by Niskanen with 4:43 to play.
“They kept us to the outside and I think they did a good job,’’ Scott Laughton said at the second intermission. “But, we also have to be better on getting inside and getting more pucks on this goalie. He’s been really good this year.
“We have to continue to generate pucks on net, keep moving our feet, we’re drawing penalties, we’re getting zone time and we’re going after them.’’
Conor Garland scored off a rebound at 12:57 of the third period to make it 2-0. Niskanen finally got a puck past Kuemper when his long shot deflected off Garland into the net.
Kessel added an empty-net goal with 1:02 to play to restore a two-goal margin.
The Coyotes were held to a total of just nine shots through two periods but were content to sit on their early lead.
“I don’t think this game is anything we need to worry about,’’ Joel Farabee said. “We actually played well for a a full 60 (minutes). I think we have to just take the positives and move on.’’