Observations from the Flyers' 6-5 setback in Nashville on Tuesday night:
1. This one's on the coach. On a night when some of the more maligned Flyers played inspired and productive hockey, the third-year coach who has received his own dose of criticisms sabotaged those efforts with a dubious offsides challenge that extended Nashville's two-man advantage and fueled its furious and unlikely and late 6-5 comeback victory. For those who haven't seen it: With 1:17 left and the Flyers down two men (we'll get to that later), Nashville's Scott Hartnell banged in the rebound of his own shot to tie a game in which both teams held multiple-goal leads. Using the offsides challenge initiated this season, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol asked for a review of the Predators' entry into the zone. The rule is clear: An unsuccessful challenge results in a two-minute penalty. The replay was anything but clear. And so, as unappetizing as surviving the final 1:17 to gain at least a point and taking it to overtime must have been at the time, Hakstol owed it to his team not to challenge at that point.
Playing in their fourth consecutive road game, and on a night when Nashville played at home for the first time since last season's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers could have been proud of any points recorded. After nearly fending off two minutes of 5-on-3 hockey, they would have played the final 77 seconds just a man down. Instead, they faced a total of the last 2 minutes and 41 seconds of an exhausting game down two men – three, really, during the tying goal, as Predators goaltender Pekke Rinne had left for an additional skater.
Asked if it was worth it, knowing the consequences of an unsuccessful challenge, Hakstol said afterward that "absolutely it's worth it. But like I said, it wasn't overturned. So it wasn't the right call.'' He also justified the challenge by saying, "Our guys had fought hard to get there.'' That would have been my justification for not challenging it, especially because, as Hakstol also said, "It could have gone one way or the other.'' A point on the road if you survive the 5 on 4 for the last 77 seconds, maybe two if you win the overtime session. A feel-good trip back home, knowing that you rallied from a 3-0 hole with five straight goals against the Stanley Cup finalists from a season ago.
2. The double penalties on Dale Weise and Andrew MacDonald that led to the Flyers' late collapse were, um, penalties. Soft and unnecessary, but we've seen this many times. The argument that discretion should have been used with that score that late is, to me, anachronistic. That might have been the NHL you grew up with. But it is clearly not the NHL of the last several years. The ridiculous slashing calls that have dominated the early part of this NHL season alone should remind you of that.
3. Oh yeah, the two maligned Flyers. Rather than argue that MacDonald is playing good hockey or Weise is, let's just go to a brief sequence last night that resulted in the Flyers' first two goals. First, MacDonald made a great neutral-zone play just to reverse the side of the offensive-zone entry, then jumped in to take Scott Laughton's hustle pass in the high slot for a one-time blast over Pekka Rinne's right shoulder. On the very next shift, Weise stole the puck from 19-year-old Preds defenseman Samuel Girard, took a shot, retrieved the puck behind the net and fed Nolan Patrick in front, and Patrick beat Rinne high for his first NHL goal. I don't keep track of my emails, but I'm pretty sure these two would lead the complaints and criticism. Those folks would be quick to point out they were the two players called for penalties late in the game that fueled the comeback – when they're not arguing that neither penalty should have been called. Bottom line is both were a result of bad luck, not bad hockey.
4. Hartnell UP! He had a classic Hartsy game. A pair of goals scored in close, a dumb penalty that resulted in extending the Flyers' lead to 5-3 and pushing the air out of the building. At 35, coming off some forgettable seasons in Columbus, Hartnell had six shots on goal, and his third line was dominant at times.