They didn’t have to wait long for another chance to end both.
The NHL’s last winless team will try to shed that label when the Flyers and Sharks complete a rare cross country home-and-home series Wednesday night at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center.
The Flyers (0-3-2) finished 2007-08 in impressive fashion, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to Pittsburgh. But this season’s team has started out looking more like Philadelphia’s 2006-07 club, which had an NHL-low 56 points.
Defensive struggles have plagued this season’s Flyers, as they’ve allowed 22 goals in five games for a league-worst 4.40 goals-against average. Starting goalie Martin Biron has a 5.74 GAA in three starts - all regulation losses - while backup Antero Niittymaki took the loss despite making 40 saves Saturday, when Philadelphia closed a three-game road trip with a 5-4 overtime defeat at San Jose.
“It’s not the start we envisioned,” Niittymaki said. “It is what it is right now. We just have to paddle through it and find a way to win. At least we played better this game.”
The Flyers will try to regroup with Niittymaki again in net, as the goalie - 0-0-2 with a 2.84 GAA this season - will earn another start on Wednesday in place of the struggling Biron.
“I just felt that he really earned us a point there with his play,” Flyers coach John Stevens told his team’s official Web site. “Niitty made some goal-saving saves (Saturday) and made a lot of saves on effort and I just feel like you reward that kind of effort and give him a chance to win the game this time.”
The loss extended the Flyers’ winless streak against the Sharks to eight games, as they’ve scored just 13 goals and gone 0-5-1 with two ties over that span. They last beat San Jose on Dec. 21, 2000.
The Sharks (5-1-0) are off to a much better start to the season than Philadelphia. On Saturday, they outshot the Flyers 45-17, but still trailed for most of the game until Devin Setoguchi tied it late in the third period and defenseman Dan Boyle scored his first San Jose goal in overtime.
“It was a pretty resilient effort on our behalf, and I think our players can take something from that,” first-year Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “They have the ability to come back, but we don’t want to be in that spot very often.”
They’ll hope to avoid more deficits by tightening up their defense. After allowing just four total goals during their 4-0-0 start, they’ve given up four in each of their last two contests. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov has allowed all eight goals on just 37 shots over that span, though he remained unbeaten (4-0-0 with two ties) with a 1.98 GAA in seven career starts against the Flyers.
Wednesday’s matchup concludes the season series, but opens a three-game East Coast swing for San Jose.
The Sharks were the NHL’s best road team last season, going 27-10-4, but they struggled on their most recent trip, losing 4-0 at Anaheim Friday despite outshooting the Ducks 38-20.