On a night when hockey fans were decked out in the Halloween spirit, the Flyers reverted yet again to their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine.
A disastrous start coupled with a furious finish and capped with an overtime turnover allowed the Arizona Coyotes to earn their first win of the season, beating the Flyers on Monday, 4-3, following the worst start (0-10-1) in NHL history (see observations). Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski sealed Arizona's first win for new head coach Rick Tocchet.
"They're definitely a better team than what people give them credit for," Wayne Simmonds said. "We didn't play a good game at all. It wasn't a good first period. It wasn't an ideal game for us."
Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim fumbled a puck at Arizona's blue line, which allowed the Coyotes to break down the ice and convert a 3-on-2 at the other end, as Goligoski's one-timer easily beat Flyers netminder Brain Elliott with 15 seconds remaining in OT (see highlights).
"Three-on-three is tough," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "We made a decision instead of taking the puck to the net, we had a little bit of a bad roll, a bad hop with the puck, and they take it over, come back hard and make the play for the goal."
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For the third time in their last nine games, the Flyers also spotted their opponent a 3-0 lead before mounting a serious comeback. However, considering their winless opponent and a failure to bring energy on home ice, this early deficit was nearly inexcusable.
"As a group, we were too far below the bar," Hakstol said. "I think we had eight shot attempts in the first period. In our own end, we weren't quick and hard defending through the entire period. I'm not taking anything away from our opponent, they played hard. We didn't start the hockey game where we wanted to be and where we needed to be."
The Flyers also failed to capitalize on Arizona goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who was making his first start since March 2016. Almost inexplicably, the Flyers didn't have a single shot on net from their forwards until Claude Giroux was able to fire off a quick wrister 3:39 into the second period. Since the Flyers generated little pressure until the final 20 minutes, they were also unable to fully take advantage of the NHL's worst penalty kill, scoring a goal on their only power-play opportunity of the game in the third.
"I'm not too sure," Giroux said, trying to put a finger on the team's early mistakes. "It's really frustrating right now. The game goes pretty quick. That's why it's good after games to go look at the game film and see your shifts and see what you did wrong, and correct that."
"Yeah, we were very fortunate [to earn a point]," Sean Couturier, who scored a pair of goals in the loss, said. "We didn't play very good at all in the first two periods. We battled back but it was too big a hole to complete the comeback. It's a huge point, I guess.
"Once we were down a goal or two goals, the crowd got into it and it kind of got frustrating for everyone. It was tough to get back into it, but in the third we battled."
With the recent injury to Shayne Gostisbehere and with Samuel Morin not ready for action, as well, the Flyers had to turn to Mark Alt, who was given notice at 11 a.m. Monday that he would be in the Flyers' lineup for his second career NHL game (see story). Alt finished the night with 16:54 of ice time and a minus-1 rating after he and fellow rookie Sanheim failed to communicate on the Coyotes' first goal.
"There was a change and we kind of got stuck on the same guy," Alt said. "Yeah, it's tough, because you never know how the game is going to start out. You just have to pick up and roll with it. There's going to be an adjustment, for sure. At the same time, you want to come in and be ready to go and try and eliminate as many of those hiccups as you can."
Notes and tidbits
• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov registered three assists for his second-career three-point game. He now has five points (one goal, four assists) over his last three games. The Flyers' No. 1 defenseman continues to log some monster minutes, setting a new career high with 28:06 of ice time.
• Couturier extended his point streak to four games (five goals, three assists). The Phoenix, Arizona-born Couturier scored twice, including his first power-play goal since April 2, 2016, a span of 82 games. With a team-leading nine goals, Couturier is on pace to shatter his single-season career high of 15 goals scored in 2014-15.
• According to the NHL's stats department, Monday's game marked just the second time in franchise history in which the Flyers scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to tie the game. The other instance came on Feb. 3, 1980, when Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish scored 33 seconds apart in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie.