Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers fueled by fast start vs. Devils

Flyers fueled by fast start vs. Devils

BOX SCORE

The Flyers had no problem getting up for a Saturday afternoon puck drop.

They jumped all over the New Jersey Devils at the Wells Fargo Center, doing all their damage in the first period en route to a 3-1 victory.

Travis Konecny, Valtteri Filppula and Ivan Provorov lit the lamp in the opening frame for a team that has often fought lackluster starts.

That was far from the case Saturday as the Flyers (22-16-8) have now won six of their last seven games (see standings). Over that span, they've outscored the opposition 28-19.

With the victory, they improved to 4-2-4 against the Metropolitan Division. Plenty more to come.

The Devils (24-13-8) entered in second place of the Metro but have had trouble against the orange and black thus far. The Flyers are 2-0-0 against New Jersey with two more games remaining in the regular-season series. It's a bit ironic the Flyers went 1-3-1 against a Devils team last season not nearly as strong, one that finished 28-40-14 with 70 points.

Hockey can be a weird game, huh?

• Shayne Gostisbehere can be so elusive with the puck, which, from a defenseman, is such a luxury for the Flyers. He exhibited that elusiveness early to jump-start the Flyers' first-period ignition. Gostisbehere took the puck from his own blue line and weaved through some Devils before finding a wide-open Konecny in the circle for a 1-0 lead at 3:29 of the opening frame.

• Speaking of Konecny, his goal and assist give him nine points in the last 10 games. In his previous 25 games, Konecny had four points. The 20-year-old is showing what he can do when playing in a prominent role: the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Who could have known putting a talented kid with talented players would yield positive results?

• The Flyers really got after it with a much-needed fast start. Prior to then, we hadn't seen many of those through 45 games. The Flyers entered Saturday in a four-way tie for fewest leads after the first period with eight, going 6-0-2 in those contests. They had themselves a healthy 3-0 advantage at first intermission Saturday behind a superb opening 20 minutes. The Devils had to pull starting goalie Keith Kinkaid, who was shaken up after surrendering the third marker.

• Filppula and Provorov scored the Flyers' other two first-period tallies. Michael Raffl got his stick on a bouncing pass to set up Filppula in front for his 10th of the season, his first double-digit-goal campaign since 2014-15. Meanwhile, Raffl quietly has 15 points in his last 25 games.

"We haven't been starting games how we would like," Filppula said at first intermission. "Today was a good start and it is obviously nice to get rewarded."

Provorov displayed some great resolve in front to finally finish off his goal.

The second-year blueliner also made a spectacular outlet pass in the second period that covered about three-quarters of the ice. Konecny was the beneficiary but misfired on the shot. Still, Provorov's play had fans ooh-ahhing.

• Raffl is as laid back and jovial of a player as you'll see on the Flyers' roster. He's not a fighter, but give him credit for always dropping the gloves whenever the opportunity calls for it. Devils defenseman John Moore called for it this time after Raffl inadvertently tripped Kinkaid. Raffl hung in there following a few early blows.

• The Flyers were bit undisciplined in the second period (two penalties) and missed a few opportunities offensively, but fortunately for them, it wasn't too costly thanks to such a positive first period. The Flyers permitted a power-play goal during the middle stanza and went 0 for 4 on the man advantage for the game. It didn't matter.

• Michal Neuvirth made a second consecutive start and was strong again, making 28 saves on 29 shots. In limited duty, he's 5-5-1 on the season and came in with a 2.35 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Solid stuff from Neuvirth.

• With Cory Schneider sick and Kinkaid's exit, emergency netminder Ken Appleby was forced into action and held his own. He stopped all 24 shots he faced in his NHL debut.

• It was the second NHL meeting between 2017 top-two picks Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Hischier finished with no points for the Devils in 17:04 of ice time, while Patrick played 11:37 and went scoreless. His line did good work, though.

• Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim was scratched for the eighth time in the last nine games, while forward Taylor Leier sat for a second straight game in favor of Tyrell Goulbourne.

• Eagles defensive back Corey Graham was in the house. Sounds like Philly is ready for 6:40 p.m. Sunday.

• Things don't get easier for the Flyers, who are right back at it Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. puck drop in Washington D.C. against the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals on NBC. 

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.