If only the Flyers could have started the way they finished.
Playing error-prone hockey similar to a 5-1 loss at Montreal a couple weeks ago, the Flyers couldn’t get out of their own way at the start of a nationally televised game at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.
So dominant were the Washington Capitals virtually from the opening whistle that the Flyers were left reeling.
The Caps scored early and often, grabbing a 5-0 lead before the contest reached its halfway point.
But the Flyers, game as usual, refused to give up and got consecutive goals from Philippe Myers, Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton (the last with 12:12 to play) to make things interesting.
However, the rally stopped there and the Flyers went down to a 5-3 defeat.
Starting goaltender Brian Elliott, who entered the game 4-0-1 since returning from a three-month injury absence, was gone by the 4:18 mark of the second period, having allowed four goals on 19 shots.
Cam Talbot came in and calmly was scored upon with the very first shot he faced.
The slow start no doubt cost the Flyers this game. What went wrong in the first 40 minutes?
“Our pace of play, I didn’t think we did a lot away from the puck,’’ coach Scott Gordon said. “The support in the offensive zone, we had a few turnovers. Defensive zone, on their breakouts, I thought we made it easy on them. Missed coverages in the slot.’’
The players knew they showed up late for this one.
“We weren’t jumping at pucks, we weren’t making good reads in the defensive zone,’’ defenseman Andrew MacDonald offered. “Just seemed like we were a step behind the first two periods. It took a while to figure it out and by the time we did, it was too late.’’
This was billed as a crucial game for the Flyers, who watched Pittsburgh, Montreal and Carolina all pick up points on Tuesday night.
The loss leaves the Flyers seven points behind each of those Eastern Conference wild card contenders with Philadelphia having only 15 games left on its schedule.
Jake Voracek (lower-body injury) and Nolan Patrick (head injury) were scratched and that was bad enough. Throw in the fact that rookie goalie Carter Hart is still sidelined by an ankle injury and the Flyers could be excused for feeling a little sorry for themselves.
“They [the Caps] came out buzzing pretty good,’’ Corban Knight said. “I think you have to give them some credit, they put us back on our heels. I think we have to learn from that. Be a little more ready to go the next time we play these guys.’’
The Caps got things going just 5:55 into the game when Alexander Ovechkin fell to his knees in front of the net but still got a pass off to Tom Wilson for a looping shot past Elliott.
It became 2-0 when Brett Connolly’s shot caromed off the in-net TV camera. Officials needed to check replay to confirm the goal.
Washington wound up launching 31 shots (including missed or blocked) to just 13 for the Flyers in the first period.
In the second period, Ovechkin (power play) and Andre Burakovsky scored in rapid fire order and that was all for Elliott.
Talbot came in and allowed a goal to Nicklas Backstrom.
Myers’ first NHL goal with 11.3 seconds left in the second spoiled any thoughts of a shutout by goalie Braden Holtby.
Giroux connected just 10 seconds into the third period for his 20th goal of the season, then Laughton followed that up with his 10th of the campaign and fans decided to stick around for a while.
“The way we played in the first two periods, that can’t happen,’’ Myers said. “A big game like this … I think we just have to play like we did in the third period. If we do that, I think we can beat a lot of hockey teams.’’
Like most of the Flyers, Giroux didn’t want to use the absence of Voracek and Patrick as an excuse.
“Any time you have players out of the lineup like that, it’s obviously not good for the team,’’ Giroux said. “They’re big pieces of the team but we still need to find a way.’’
Added Gordon: “They (Voracek, Patrick) make us a better team. It’s no different than Ovechkin and (Evgeny) Kuznetsov being out of their lineup. They are two of our top six players.’’
Voracek was scheduled to meet with a doctor to determine the extent of his injury, which occurred in Friday night’s game against New Jersey. “It was just a puck came around the boards and just hit him in a funny spot,’’ Gordon said. “We won’t know anymore until he sees the doctor. You just want to make sure it’s not worse than what they originally thought.’’