PHILADELPHIA – The last quarter of the season has been billed as an evaluation period for a transitioning Flyers roster but so far the report card grades haven’t been so great.
Tuesday night, the Flyers’ marks didn’t look very encouraging for about the first 48 minutes but then they did stage a rather stirring rally.
Coming off an 0-3 road trip in which they scored only three goals, the Flyers finally woke up a bit. But the rally fell short in a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers started off a seven-game homestand with their fourth straight setback.
With Felix Sandstrom filling in at goaltending for Carter Hart (illness), the Flyers gave it their best shot against the Pacific Division-leading Knights.
But it wasn’t enough.
Trailing, 4-1, early in the third period, the Flyers rallied on goals from Nick Seeler and Morgan Frost. However, Vegas scored an empty-net goal and held on for the victory.
The Flyers’ four consecutive losses have come against four powerhouse teams – Tampa, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Vegas – so it isn’t like the Flyers have been favored in any of these games.
So there are some encouraging signs. But the Flyers have to improve in some crucial areas, like not taking so many penalties, killing the ones they do take and finding ways to score on their own power plays.
For the record, on their own power play, they are just three for their last 40 in their last 18 games. Overall, they rank last in the NHL at under 15 percent.
Meanwhile, Vegas connected twice in four power-play attempts. The Flyers took some questionable infractions, like too many men on the ice and closing their hand on the puck.
“Really, throughout the game I thought our puck support was really good,” coach John Tortorella said. “A lot of good things offensively in the second period but we just don’t finish.
“Penalties hurt us. Too many men on the ice, grabbing the puck. It’s just hard to overcome those.”
Tortorella said the Flyers generated enough opportunities with one caveat.
“We just don’t finish,” he said. “The two penalties hurt. The effort is there.”
The coach says there’s not a whole lot he can do as far as the inefficient penalty kill is concerned. The PK has surrendered seven goals in 18 power plays during the four-game losing streak.
“We’re trying new guys,” Tortorella said. “Quite honestly, we just don’t have enough PK guys. Trying to develop (Owen) Tippett into one, he gets beat. A big problem with our penalty kill right now is when we have a chance to get it out, we don’t. Give the team a second opportunity. We need personnel to kill penalties.”
The coach said he hopes to have the injured Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson back next year. Those are two experienced hands at killing penalties.
“Still trying to develop guys here,” Tortorella said. “We’ll see where it goes.”
Vegas took a 1-0 lead at 8:34 of the first period when both Ivan Provorov and Kevin Hayes chased Reilly Smith below the end line. That left Pavel Dorofeyev unguarded to circle in front and send a shot over Sandstrom’s right shoulder.
The Knights scored on the power play early in the second to take a 2-0 edge. With Frost in the penalty box for closing his hand on the puck, Ivan Barbashev’s shot nicked off Provorov’s stick and past a handcuffed Sandstrom.
A goal from Travis Sanheim at 8:10 cut the deficit to one. Sanheim took advantage of a bad clear, deked around a defender and sent a shot past goalie Jonathan Quick.
The Flyers couldn’t sustain the momentum. Teddy Blueger scored for Vegas at 11:06 after the Flyers once again struggled to get the puck out of their defensive zone. The Knights got two whacks at the puck in front before Blueger put a short shot past Sandstrom.
In the third period, the Knights began to put it away on a power-play goal by Jonathan Marchessault at 3:01. The Flyers were penalized for too many men on the ice.
Seeler scored an unassisted goal at 8:24 to cut the margin to two and then Frost finished off a pass from Brendan Lemieux at 10:15 to make for a tense finish.
The Seeler move is something he’s worked on in practice. He acknowledged it was probably the closest thing he’s had to a highlight-reel goal in his career.
“Without a doubt,” Seeler said. “There’s no quit in this group. I think you’ve seen that.
“I thought we had a ton of good shifts tonight, a ton of offensive zone time. Thought we were going to come back there. I think we’ve been creating more. Obviously we haven’t been scoring as much as we need to but this is definitely a positive.”
Added Frost: “We were close to coming back. We’re generating some good looks, we just can’t seem to bury it. I guess you can take that positive away from tonight. The penalty on me was kind of boneheaded. We have to stay out of the box.”
After a two-day break, the Flyers return to action with back-to-back games against Buffalo on Friday and Carolina on Saturday.