"Home games don't win themselves," a former Philadelphia coach once said in a sport other than hockey. But the same rule applies on the ice.
Just because the fans are cheering for you, and you get last change before the puck is dropped, doesn't' guarantee the scoreboard will wind up on your side at the end of the day. Especially when you keep spotting the visiting team two goals — or more — before finally getting down to business.
It happened again Monday night, as the Flyers skated most of the first two periods in a fog against the much-improved Maple Leafs. The Flyers dug that proverbial two-goal hole before attempting in vain to climb out of it in a 4-2 loss. That makes them now 0-for-6 trying to get back to the .500 mark since Sidney Crosby and the Penguins spoiled their coming out party Opening Day.
"We're not going to make the playoffs if we keep playing the way we are," said Scott Hartnell, who scored his first goal of the season in his second game back from a broken foot. "If we don't learn fast, it's going to be a long season. Guys have to realize that. Every point counts, whether it's game 20 or game 30. We have to wake up."
What's even more maddening is the Flyers' inability to take command in their own building, where teams used to dread playing and usually left empty handed. But in nine games here, they are 5-3-1 while surrendering the first goal six times.
"We've had a bad schedule from the first 20 games, but now it's really good," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was victimized on Phil Kessel's late, first-period goal that put Toronto ahead to stay. "We've got some nice home games coming up and we've got to find a way to win these games. But it doesn't matter whether we're home or away, we have to find a way to play for 60 minutes. It's not happening right now."
Taking the crowd out of it early is the key, according to one man who knows what this place is like when the Flyers get on a roll.
"They are always going to come out hard," said James van Riemsdyk, who went scoreless. "The game plan was to get off to a good start and not let anything get away from you the first 5-10 minutes. Definitely one of the staples here is using the passion of the crowd to start the game. I think, when they do that, they have success."
However, that formula doesn't seem to be working for the Flyers right now. They'll try it again here Wednesday vs. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Happy homecoming for JVR
The NHL's sixth-leading goal scorer didn't record a point Monday night in his team's 4-2 win over the roller-coaster Flyers. He didn't seem to mind one bit.
Then again, James van Riemsdyk is used to winning in this building.
"They didn't give us too many chances, but we were able to win the game and that's what matters," said JVR, who has erupted for 11 goals since being traded last summer to the Maple Leafs. "It definitely feels good to get this one out of the way and move forward. We were all in and pulling the rope in the same direction. We didn't really have any passengers today. ''
In fact, the most hectic moment for the Leafs came courtesy of JVR, when he was called for two penalties during the same Flyers possession late in the third period. Jake Voracek promptly scored on the first power play, cutting it to 3-2, before the Leafs killed off the second man disadvantage, then iced it with a late empty-net goal.
No one breathed a deeper sigh of relief than van Riemsdyk.
"It was an uneasy feeling in there," admitted JVR, whose 12-8 Leafs are surprisingly in the thick of the Northeast Division race, "but the boys did a great job on the kill. I'm glad they bailed me out there."
And in the process assured it would a happy homecoming to his old stomping grounds for James van Riemsdyk.