ST. LOUIS — Most of the defensemen the Flyers used Thursday night spent last season in the AHL, but here they were, trying to contain a St. Louis Blues team that entered the game tied for the most points in the NHL.
Stunningly, the Blues weren’t able to take advantage of the Flyers’ baby blue line.
In their grittiest effort of the young season, the Flyers overcame a patchwork, inexperienced defense and jolted the Blues, 2-0, at the Scottrade Center.
Michal Neuvirth made 33 saves and collected his first shutout of the season, defenseman Brandon Manning scored the game-winner, and Ivan Provorov anchored the Flyers’ oh-so-green defense by playing 26-plus minutes and equaling a team record with 10 blocked shots.
The Blues (10-3-1) were handed their first home loss this season after five straight wins here.
Claude Giroux iced the victory by scoring an empty-net goal with 5.4 seconds left.
The Flyers (7-6-1), who were playing on back-to-back nights and faced a well-rested team, took a 1-0 lead on Manning’s controversial goal with 19:22 left in the second period.
The goal was originally waved off because of goaltender interference on Jake Voracek. The Flyers challenged, and the call was reversed after it was reviewed. It was ruled Voracek was pushed into goalie Jake Allen by Blues defenesman Alex Pietrangelo.
“When they said it was no goal, I think they owed me for one from last week,” said Manning, referring to a goal he scored in Ottawa that was negated because of goalie interference on Jordan Weal, “so I’m happy this goal counted.”
Manning’s point drive gave him two goals in the last four games — after he went goal-less in his previous 53 games. Manning had six shots on the night.
“Jake made a helluva play,” Manning said. “We’ve been trying to get to the net a little more.”
With 8:21 to go in the second, former Flyer Brayden Schenn leveled Sean Couturier with a blindside hit to the head in the left circle of the visitors’ offensive zone. Couturier, the Flyers’ top-line center and arguably their MVP in the first month, went down in pain and was taken to the locker room because of the league’s concussion protocol. He returned to start the third period.
Schenn was only given a two-minute interference penalty, and the Flyers complained that it should have been a five-minute major.
A little over four minutes earlier, Schenn was ahead of the pack and he fired a tracer that Neuvirth gloved, keeping the Flyers ahead, 1-0.
Partially because of injuries, four first-year defensemen were in the Flyers’ lineup: Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Mark Alt, and Will O’Neill, who made his NHL debut. Combined, they had played a total of 27 NHL games.
It was the most inexperienced defense the Flyers had ever used in franchise history, the club said.
If you add Provorov and Manning, the Flyers’ six defensemen had played a total of 272 career games — or 280 fewer than St. Louis’ Pietrangelo (552 games), and he’s only 27.
With that as a backdrop, you can understand coach Dave Hakstol’s simplified game plan: Keep the puck down the other end.
“Offensively, it puts a little more emphasis on our forwards to keep the puck,” Hakstol said before the game. “… We want to hold the puck as much as we can and have possession in the offensive zone.”
Sound strategy when you have a patchwork defense, but the Flyers couldn’t get the puck out of their zone in the first 11 minutes. St. Louis came in swarms, built a 12-2 shots domination in that time, but couldn’t solve Neuvirth, who was making just his fifth start of the season.
Neuvirth was particularly sharp on the Blues’ first power play, making several saves, including a point-blank shot by Vladimir Tarasenko.
The Flyers, coming off a 3-0 loss Wednesday in Chicago, found their legs with about 6:30 left in the first and started to control play. Sparked by a strong shift from a line centered by former Blue Jori Lehtera, they got six of the last eight shots in the period, which ended scoreless.
Lehtera played perhaps his strongest game of the season.