The Flyers' margin of error is paper thin right now.
Against the Bruins last Thursday, it was a failure to clear the puck out of their zone in the final minute that set up the game-winning goal.
Facing the expansion Golden Knights Monday, all it took was losing one board battle late in the third period that led to another regulation loss and a 3-2 setback at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
“It was a scrum in the corner and they play a good triangle down low and we knew that before the game,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We just needed a little winger support, and they made a great play.”
Former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare fought off Wayne Simmonds, Valtteri Filppula and Radko Gudas to gain possession along the boards and behind the Flyers' net, which ultimately led to Ryan Carpenter’s one-timer goal from the left circle that beat Petr Mrazek with 2:40 remaining in regulation.
“I felt like we controlled this one,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We didn’t get a puck out and that whole shift we didn’t get the puck under control. We had an opportunity to push it out at the blue line, and then we got caught outside of our coverage down in the slot.”
One mistake overshadowed another solid 60-minute effort in which the Flyers controlled possession and neutralized the Golden Knights' fast-paced attack, limiting Vegas to just 19 even-strength shots.
“We should have gotten a point obviously,” Simmonds said. “We've got to be focused. We played solid but we didn’t get the two points and that’s what matters. I guess it doesn’t really matter here. We've just got to make sure we play the full 60. If it’s not 60, it’s not good enough.”
And right now, as well as the Flyers have played recently, it simply isn’t good enough. In seven of their last eight games, the Flyers have scored two or fewer goals.
“We’re pretty pissed. We’re letting these games get away from us right now,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s March. We can’t keep doing this. We need every point we can get.”
After racing to the top of the Metropolitan Division following a 1-0 shootout victory over the Canadiens on Feb. 26, the Flyers have mustered just three points (1-5-1) over their last seven games.
Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury came up with some spectacular saves to earn his 400th career victory. Perhaps the biggest was a sprawling glove save on rookie Travis Sanheim in the first four minutes of the third period.
The former Pittsburgh Penguin also beat the Flyers for the 28th time in his career, which ranks third all-time behind New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and New York Rangers great Henrik Lundqvist.
“We’ve had such a good rivalry,” Fleury said. “I thought it was always intense games and tough games, tough place to win. The crowd is into it, too, usually. With this team, it’s still fun to win here.”
As for the Flyers, they need to discover that enjoyment rather quickly.
Thursday they host the Blue Jackets, who are now just two points behind the Flyers in the standings.
March is not a good time to be a bubble team, no matter what sport it is.