Esche Slams Door on Sabres As Flyers Gain Season's First Shutout
Sunday, December 15, 2002
By David W. Unkle
Buffalo's Miroslav Satan is a thorn in the side of the Philadelphia Flyers and a hot-handed Satan (5G, 6A in his last six games) playing against the team's back-up goalie when the team was struggling certainly had all the ingredients for trouble.
Satan's goal midway through the third period of the last contest between these two teams ended the Flyers season opening unbeaten streak (3-0-2) but the Flyers came right back and reeled off six consecutive wins.
However, Robert Esche is not just another NHL back up. In ten games with the Flyers this season, Esche (4-1-2) was even with starter Roman Cechmanek in goals-against-average (2.09) and just a notch below him in save percentage (.908 vs. .910).
(Esche) is a great guy in the locker room, said Flyers' Captain Keith Primeau. He's totally committed to being a team guy, always ready to play.
However, the Sabres are struggling with their own set of problems (1-6-2 in their last ten road games) and last night's 2-0 loss to the Flyers did nothing to right their sinking ship.
Flyers' Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has stressed all season long that the Flyers need to have five guys playing both ends of the ice. Getting offensive support from Chris Therein (1 A) and Eric Weinrich (1A, 2 shots) was just what the doctor ordered.
Our whole team was good defensively tonight...but with our group, I'm nervous all the time, said Hitchcock. We dominate and we overwhelm teams and we are still up 1-0.
We've created chances all year for ourselves and that's a sign of hard work. We lead the NHL in shots but we haven't scored a goal all year long on 2 on 1, which is just incredible, we just have to finish our shots.
Donald Brashear knocked home the game-winner at 15:18 of the second period on a blast from the left face-off circle. It was a one-timer...I tried to put the puck on the net and get it high, said Brashear.
Chris Therien intercepted a clearing pass in Buffalo's defensive zone and found Michal Handzus just inside the blue line. Handzus deftly threaded the puck to Brashear who put Philadelphia up 1-0.
Brash is playing better and better because he is playing the game within the game. He's not trying to create something that isn't there, he's playing his position well, he's keeping the puck ahead of him, said Hitchcock who was obviously pleased to get some offense from his role players.
Eric Desjardins gave the Flyers an insurance goal on a rifle from the right point at 14:05 of the third period. Desjardins to the feed from Mark Recchi and his shot slowly rolled under the butterflyed pads of Sabres' goalie Martin Biron for the 2-0 lead.
Originally credited to Primeau, replays clearly revealed that Desjardins' shot went off Sabres' center Tim Connolly and never touched another Flyers stick.
Credit goes to goaltending and defense for this win and Satan was the focal point. Buffalo's record is 5-0-2 when Satan scores a goal and is 2-16-3-1 when he is shutout.
We're starting to climb the mountain again; we hit a couple of stumbling blocks but we seemed to have regrouped, added Primeau. We have a big week ahead of us before Christmas so it's a nice time to start climbing the hill.
The Philadelphia Flyers take on the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, December 17 at 7:00PM at the First Union Center before traveling to Atlanta to face the Thrashers.
The Flyers continue to struggle on the power play dropping their efficiency at home to 9.3% (7 for 75) and 11.8% overall (16 for 135).
With one more point, Mark Recchi ties Gary Dornhoefer for ninth place on the Flyers All-Time Points List (518).
The Flyers improved their record to 10-0-2 when leading after two periods.
The Flyers allowed the fewest shots (3) by a team in a period this season.
Tim Saunders of WIP Radio named Simon Gagne, Robert Esche, and Biron as stars of the game.
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