Loss to Devils inspires introspection

DAVID W. UNKLE -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 1:08 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA--It was the start that Philadelphia Flyers' winger, Todd Fedoruk was looking for in his return to Broad Street.

 

Unfortunately, it was the finish that let him down.

 

When the offence gave the Flyers leads of 2-0 and 3-2, it was the team's defence that kept the door opened for the New Jersey Devils.

 

Brad Lukowich scored a shorthanded goal with less than three minutes in regulation, and the Devils ultimately dispatched the Flyers, 4-3 on shootout goals by Zach Parise and Brian Gionta.

 

Playing in his first game since being re-acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 13, Fedoruk scored 97 seconds into the game to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead, tapping the puck past New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur.

 

It was Fedoruk's first goal since his marker against the Dallas Stars on Mar. 31, 2006.

 

"That was a big, ice-breaker," said Fedoruk, who later added an assist on a goal by Randy Jones to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 17:08 of the first period.

 

"It's few and far between for a guy like me to put a couple of pucks in the net. It was a textbook start for what I wanted to have happen here tonight...it would have been the perfect scenario if we came out with a win," Fedoruk said.

 

Parise deflected a centering pass off the skate of Flyers' defenceman Joni Pitkanen and into the net, less than a minute after Jones' first period marker, stunning the announced attendance of 19,559 in the Wachovia Center.

 

The Devils made it 2-2 midway through the second period when a Patrik Elias offering trickled between the pads of Philadelphia goaltender, Antero Niittymaki.

 

The middle period of hockey games has been unkind to the Flyers this season where they have been outscored by their opponents, 42-18 following Elias' goal.

 

Mike Knuble gave the Flyers a one-goal cushion to start the third period, and that tally looked like the game-winner until Lukowich scored at 17:48 of the third period.

 

"Not being able to close-out a game on the powerplay and two-and-a-half minutes left (in the regulation) should be the nail in the coffin as far as (New Jersey) is concerned," Knuble said.

 

It was Lukowich's first goal in 29 games dating back to Mar. 23 against Atlanta.

 

"It was a two-on-two rush, and the defenceman was coming late," said Flyers head coach, John Stevens.

 

"We have to look around and find (Lukowich) there...that is just a simple tracking assignment. When you are on the power play at that point in the hockey game, we tell everybody that when the puck turns over everybody has to get back and play defence like it is five-on-five hockey" Stevens said.

 

"It is an awareness thing, but those are the reasons why we are where we are right now."

 

So where are the Flyers? To answer that question, first you have to figure out which team will show up to play.

 

Is it a Flyers team that has a dreadful, 3-8-4 record in 15 outings at the Wachovia Center?

 

Or is a Flyers team that went 3-1-1 prior to the Devils' game, with decided victories over the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders?

 

"How many games have we played now, 27?" asked Knuble. "Well, it feels like 20 of those games have been soul-searching nights. "I think we've reached a point--what we've achieved is good for where we have come from, but it's not good enough going forward."

 

"When you get a shorthanded goal against you (in that situation), it is inexcusable for our unit...I think it is a question of recognizing the urgency at the time, and not being cautious but responsible, and it's not the time to not take care of the puck," said Knuble.

 

One of a handful of players who consistently provides Stevens with a consistent effort night-after-night, Knuble accepted responsibility for his contributions to Lukowich's goal.

 

"It started with (defenceman) Randy (Jones) and I in the corner...we were sort of going back and forth with (the puck) and I gave him a pass that did not quite get to him, and I lead to the breakout," explained Knuble.

 

"I don't know who else was on defence (Joni Pitkanen), but the forwards are veteran guys. Simon (Gagne), Randy (Robitaille), and I--we know what's happening. When you give up a chance like that, you hustle your ass back. To be beat up the ice by a defenceman is inexcusable--it's just the guys on the ice knowing what the hell is going on, and what's at stake," added Knuble.

 

Stevens concurred.

 

"If we're going to be a good team, we can't do those things and lose hockey games--that's twice now in the last week where we had a self-inflicted wound."

 

"These are lessons we have to learn, and these are games that we have to win," Stevens said.

 

Knuble hopes it won't be too late in the 2005-06 season before the Flyers finally figure things out.

 

So do most Flyers fans.

 

David Unkle can be reached at: topcatsports@canoemail.com


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