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It’s Not the Finish, but Slow Start That Ultimately Dooms Flyers

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

The Flyers had made it all the way back from a 3-0 deficit with 1:32 left in the third period against a team they trailed in the standings by a point. It was hardly a game you wanted to see go beyond regulation, but considering the circumstances, the opportunity to get a second point in overtime and tie the New York Islanders in the standings would be more than satisfying given the start.

Then, in an instant, it was gone. The Islanders led again in the final minute and the Flyers had one guaranteed point and the possibility of a second point disappear. It was without question the most disheartening defeat of the season.

The focus of so many will fall on the final minute of the game. The Flyers needed to get a save from Brian Elliott or a blocked shot from a defender. The Flyers needed a clear or a stoppage. The Flyers needed to gain control and lock down defensively on that final shift.

The problem with that thinking is that it completely ignores that the Flyers had zero margin for error from the first period on. This game will be remembered for a last-minute goal that took away the potential victory and at least a single point for reaching overtime. It should be another example of how slow starts to games can be detrimental to this team and their playoff hopes.

The Flyers didn’t necessarily get off to a bad start, but once the game reached the first TV timeout, the Islanders really ramped up the effort. The Flyers looked completely lost. They weren’t skating. There was a lot of puck watching. There was no urgency to remove themselves from the situation.

So the Islanders struck first and piled on, getting three goals in a span of 7:51 on three of their next four shots in the game. That dug yet another hole for the Flyers to dig out of and try to salvage a game.

The reality of the situation for the Flyers is that this is really nothing new, just something they haven’t paid for near as much this season as in the past. Look at each of the games since the All-Star break to see why.

In their first game back from the break, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins, both teams played a safe first period. The Flyers only led because of a late power-play goal.

The next night against Colorado, the Flyers were outshot, 11-7, in the first period, but somehow escaped with a 2-0 lead on their way to a 6-3 win. 

In Detroit, the Flyers did generate more possession and shots than the lowly Red Wings in the first period, but came out of the period scoreless. A goal 13 seconds in by the Devils set the stage for a 5-0 defeat. Even in a 7-2 win over Washington, the Flyers struggled early and came out of the first period in a 1-1 tie. 

Overall, the Flyers have outscored opponents 175-164 this season. In the first period, they are being outscored, 60-46. 

In one of the most crucial games of their season, the Flyers came out flat and unprepared for the Islanders and it showed. It left them with no room to make a mistake or give up another goal. They didn’t for over 39 minutes through the second and third, getting the game tied and putting them in position to somehow steal a game they had no right even coming close to winning.

Certainly you can be encouraged by the Flyers level of play in the final two periods. They outplayed the Islanders in that time. But when a slow start leaves you with no room for error whatsoever, it can create results like on Tuesday night.

As a result, the Islanders grabbed the two points and held the Flyers without anything to show for the comeback effort. The Flyers managed to hold the second wildcard spot in the playoffs only because of a Carolina loss in Dallas. 

While the Flyers remain in striking distance of all of these teams -- one point behind Columbus, three points behind the Islanders and five behind the Penguins -- they need to solve their problem with starting off slow and establishing the level of play that they have displayed in the latter 40 minutes of so many games. 

In a lot of cases, they have survived the first period more than succeeded within it. Tuesday’s loss was a reminder of what can happen when you leave yourself with no choice but to be perfect for the final two periods.

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