Taylor Leier

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing loss in Pittsburgh the tipping point?

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing loss in Pittsburgh the tipping point?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse and that it was OK to step outside in your orange and black gear again, this past week happened.

The bruises got darker and the cuts got deeper this week as the Flyers’ prolonged misery and embarrassment continued with three more painful losses, each in unique fashion, to push the losing streak to 10 games. It’s the longest losing streak for the Flyers since 2008, when they also lost 10 in a row. For those keeping score at home, the longest winless streak (losses and ties) in franchise history is 12 games way back in 1999.

The week kicked off in stunning fashion with a disheartening 5-4 loss in OT to the rival Penguins on Monday in Pittsburgh. It continued back home Tuesday night with a lifeless 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. And then the week ended with yet another dud, a 3-0 shutout loss at home to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon.

So, as you may be able to infer, there is plenty to get to in this week’s observations, and not much, if any of it, is good.

Let’s get to it.

• The feeling heading into this week was that the Flyers, losers of seven straight contests, could benefit from the energy, ill will and overall rivalry with the Penguins, and get some momentum going to turn the ship around. And for 40 minutes, it looked like that feeling was reality.

Until the third period began and the Flyers blew yet another two-goal lead, the fourth such lead they’ve blown during this streak. But they struck back thanks to a sweet power move by Michael Raffl, only to have that lead evaporate with less than a minute left. So of course you knew the nightmare would come full circle with a Sidney Crosby OT winner.

This loss was so demoralizing on so many levels. Here, you had the defending two-time Stanley Cup champs and your blood rival on the ropes to end a long losing streak, and then in the blink of an eye it all swirled down the drain in a most painful, needling fashion while your goalie, Brian Elliott, basically stood on his head with 47 saves and gave you a chance to win yet again.

The question that still lingers almost a week after: was that the tipping point for the Flyers? Was that black eye what finally pushed them off the cliff? If we’re status quo in April and we look back at when the wheels fell off for good, will that be what we point back to? Shake the orange and black Magic 8-ball right now and “all signs point to yes” will appear. And the proof was in how the Flyers responded in the next two games.

• Last week, I wrote that the 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Nov. 21 was the Flyers’ worst performance of the season. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have an new leader in the clubhouse and it’s the dismal showing back home vs. San Jose on Tuesday night, just 24 hours after the meltdown in Pittsburgh.

After Claude Giroux scored just 48 seconds into the contest, the Flyers barely had a pulse for the next 59:12. The Sharks grabbed the game by the throat and the Flyers put up little resistance or pushback.

Yes, the Flyers were a tired team coming off a heartbreaking loss and the Sharks are a big, strong contender from the Western Conference. But still, the Flyers should have more than five measly third-period shots when trailing by two goals. The night was a breeze for Sharks goalie Aaron Dell, who had to make just 22 saves, and not many of the challenging variety.

Just not a good effort whatsoever. And more importantly, an awful response to adversity from the night before.

• The Flyers lost again Saturday, of course, to the Bruins, 3-0, and were shut out for the sixth time in 26 games. That marks the most in the league. But while the Bruins carried the game, the Flyers shouldn’t have been shut out as Giroux cleanly beat Tuukka Rask on the power play near the end of the second period to cut Boston’s lead to 3-1.

But not so fast, as the officials erased the tally for supposed goalie interference on Wayne Simmonds, who had cut in front of Rask and made contact with the Bruins’ netminder, according to the powers that be. And it was an egregiously terrible call by the powers that be.

Simmonds, who is entitled to his ice, barely grazed, if even touched Rask, who was inching out of his crease. That was and still is a good goal, except to the league, which has different rules and standards on different days. That move by Simmonds will be goalie interference one game and not even an afterthought the next. The lack of consistency is baffling. If you’re going to call it tight, call it tight all the time. If you’re going to let some things go, let those things go all the time.

The way the rule is enforced one game and period and play to the next is laughable, to be quite frank.

• Some curious lineup decisions by Dave Hakstol this week, benching young forwards Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier as healthy scratches and inserting veterans Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera into the lineup Monday in Pittsburgh and Tuesday vs. San Jose.

OK, a veteran presence is one thing. But it doesn’t help all that much when those veterans are giving you next to nothing right now. Weise has only two goals on the season and just one point in his last 14 games played. The stats are just as ugly for Lehtera, who has just two assists in 17 contests this season.

Yes, the scoresheet isn’t pretty for Weal or Leier, respectively. Weal, who was counted on coming into the season to provide a secondary scoring jolt in a top-six role, has just two goals and four assists on the campaign and is scoreless in his last 11 contests. Leier, pegged into a fourth-line role that isn’t asking for offense all the time, has a goal and two assists on the season.

But what those two guys do bring night in and night out is energy. And if there’s anything this Flyers team needs desperately right now, it’s an injection of energy. Those two guys should be playing every night.

• Funny (alright, maybe not so much in this case) how things can change over the course of a year. On Dec. 3 last season, the Flyers topped the Chicago Blackhawks to win their fourth of eventually 10 straight games. Fast forward a year and the Flyers are drowning in the quicksand that is this 10-game skid and morale is as low as has been in recent memory. "It's f----ing brutal," according to Shayne Gostisbehere. "Everything we touch right now turns to s--," explained Jake Voracek on Saturday.

Hey, nowhere to go but up, right?


Coming up this week: Monday at Calgary (9:00 p.m. on NBCSP+), Wednesday at Edmonton (9:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday at Vancouver (10:00 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

AP Images

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — For a team that has coughed up two-goal leads recently like mucusy phlegm during flu season, having Andrew MacDonald back on the ice paired with Ivan Provorov was a welcome sight for the Flyers at practice Sunday before heading out to Pittsburgh to battle the two-time Stanley Cup champion and rival Penguins Monday night.

“It’s great to have Mac back. He’s a great leader,” Provorov said. “He makes a great impact on the team. We understand each other. We read off each other. He’s in great position most of the times and that’s why he’s able to get great blocks and good sticks.”

MacDonald has been skating and practicing for the past week, looking to regain the flexibility and motion with his skating muscles after blocking a slap shot off his leg in the Oct. 21 game against Edmonton. After all, it was just a week ago MacDonald ditched the walking boot.

“It was simply getting some strength back into it,” MacDonald said. “I wasn’t putting any weight on it for a while and you’re losing some muscle in there. At this point, you just have to build it up a little bit and make sure there’s no setbacks.”

At the time of MacDonald’s injury, the Flyers were 5-3 and had given up an average of 2.25 goals per game. In the 15 games MacDonald has missed, the Flyers have an Eastern Conference-worst three wins during that span and have surrendered on average 3.6 goals.

The return of MacDonald certainly gives the Flyers more balance on the blue line, as head coach Dave Hakstol has been forced to rely on three rookies interspersed among his three pairs.

“When you have to shift your D pairings due to an injury, it depends sometimes how you’re making your shift or who you’re shifting for,” Hakstol said. “For us, the last couple of games we’ve had Mac out and [Radko Gudas] out. Two players that are very distinct in their roles. Today, Mac had a heck of a good day and looked good. He’s got a real presence in our dressing room and he also has a real presence for us on the ice, and the domino effect throughout our pairings.”

Along with Provorov, MacDonald will also help solidify the Flyers' top penalty-killing unit, a group that has plunged to 28th in the NHL while surrendering nine power-play goals over the last five games.   

Looking for buzz with new bees
Apparently the "Honey Bees" aren’t generating enough honey these days.

After keeping the line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl intact for the first 19 games of the season, Hakstol has elected to completely dismantle that line, as Laughton centered Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise during Sunday’s practice.

“Those two veterans have been out of the lineup for a couple nights,” Hakstol said. “There’s certain elements that they bring that are a little bit different than what Taylor and Jordan bring. Jori has played good, hard two-way hockey. He brings a heaviness to whatever line he’s on. For me, it’s more of looking for factors like that.”

The move also means Jordan Weal and Leier will serve as the healthy scratches for the Flyers' first game of the season against their cross-state rivals. 

“As an offensive guy, the numbers haven’t been there, and when that happens, it’s part of the game,” Weal said. “We need a little secondary scoring in the lineup. There’s no excuses. As an offensive guy, you’ve got to produce offense no matter where you are and what part of the lineup. I wasn’t doing my job and that’s what I was paid and brought here to do.”

“[Weal] wants to help and produce offensively,” Hakstol said. “He’s working hard and he hasn’t changed anything with his work ethic or his tenacity. Things haven’t happened and haven’t gone well for him.”

Interestingly for Leier, he scored his first goal of the season Wednesday against the Islanders.

“I don’t think I’ve changed the way I’ve played,” Leier said. “It’s a long year and we’re on a losing streak right now. I try not to get too high or too low. Sometimes you can tend to overthink during a year like this. There’s always a lot of variables that go into every situation. Sometimes you have to mix it up when there’s a losing streak and everyone wants results, including myself.”

Weise, with one goal in his last 11 games, has been a healthy scratch over the past three contests and Lehtera, still looking for his first goal in a Flyers sweater, has sat out in three of the team's last five games.   

“Two big bodies that can get in on the forecheck,” Laughton said of Weise and Lehtera. “We’re definitely building chemistry as practice went on, and I guess talk and see where we’re going to be in the offensive zone and things like that. I think it comes with communication. I’ve played with both of them in a couple of games and it’s just figuring out where everyone likes to be.”

Following their Black Friday loss to the Islanders, the Flyers have dropped six straight games decided after regulation, four in overtime and two by shootout. It’s the longest such winless streak since March 3-April 4, 2015, when the Flyers lost seven straight after regulation.

Historically, the Flyers have been brutal in shootouts, but more recently, the breakdowns have occurred defensively during the five-minute 3-on-3 session.

“You've got to be communicating a lot and I think that may be one of our downfalls,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Sometimes we don’t talk a lot. We’ve got a lot of younger guys and communication is like having an extra guy out there on the ice sometimes. A lot more communication will do this team really, really good as well.”

“We’ve made mistakes that have led to point-blank opportunities,” Hakstol said. “Those have to change. Those have to be cleaned up immediately."

Over the past few games, Hakstol has also gone away from the trio of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere that has been OT gold in previous seasons.

“Are those combinations that we’ll go back to? Absolutely,” Hakstol said. “They were together up until the last two games. There were reasons for that. We’re creating and have created enough opportunities to win games in overtime. We've got to make sure we don’t start pressing to win those games.”

The Flyers are currently tied with the Ottawa Senators with six overtime losses.

Projected lines, pairings and goalies 

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Danick Martel-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers suffer heartbreaking overtime loss to extend skid to 6

Flyers suffer heartbreaking overtime loss to extend skid to 6


NEW YORK -- The book entitled “Finding Different Ways to Lose” is growing thicker by the game.

Josh Bailey scored on his own rebound just 32 seconds into overtime to give the Islanders the extra point and a 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center (see observations). The Flyers appeared to have the play covered until defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere lost track of Bailey, who missed on his first attempt but converted on his second effort to hand the visitors a sixths straight defeat.

“Everyone goes through different struggles,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s a growing rule for everybody. Right now, Ghost is one of the elder statesmen on the back end there and sometimes that has a way of putting extra weight on your shoulders. I just think it’s a stretch that he’s going to get through. He’s doing a lot of really good things. He’s just got to get back to where he was before he was out a few games with that injury.”

In the eight games since returning from an injury where he was slammed hard into the boards in Toronto, Gostisbehere has struggled mightily in the defensive end. However, the Flyers’ problems over the course of their current six-game losing streak extend well beyond just one player. The penalty kill has completely fallen apart as the team has allowed seven power-play goals in the last three games. The units have also killed off just four of the last 11 power-play chances.

It’s a two-fold problem. The Flyers are creating self-inflicting wounds and the penalty kill isn’t outworking the opponents’ power play unit. Of course, it didn’t help when Sam Morin, who making his season debut, gave the Islanders a two-man advantage when he flipped the puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty.

“We’re right there. We kind of put ourselves in another bad position when we took a 5-on-3,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “It’s still biting us in the butt a little bit. I thought we played a really good game. I think we’re right there. We just need to turn that corner.”

“Can’t pinpoint one thing. It’s just got be better,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Yeah, they’re going to score. You take a ton of penalties, teams are good enough in this league. Individual skill in this league is through the roof. Guys are going to make plays, especially when they’re up a man. Best form of penalty kill is not to be in the box at all.”

Hakstol even elected to switch up his shorthanded personnel in an effort to create a different look and hopefully provide some beneficial change. The Flyers even attempted to light a fuse be calling up Morin and Danick Martel from Lehigh Valley. Martel had six attempted shots (three on net) in just 12 minutes of action in his NHL debut.

“You’ve got to be ready every game,” Martel said. “I got my chance today and I had a really good game and I’m proud of it. I think my stick was a bit tight today, so that’s why I missed the net a couple of times.”

The Flyers did finally receive some secondary scoring to complement their top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Coming into this game, that group had accounted for 46 percent of the team’s goal production. Taylor Leier opened the scoring with his first goal of the season and Michael Raffl scored his first point in 43 games with a breakaway goal that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

“It’s a little bit different role playing with T.K. (Travis Konecny) and Fil (Valtteri Filppula) out there,” Raffl said. “You get a little more offensive looks and a little more ice time out there. You’ve got to take advantage of that. I feel pretty good out there. I’m fit. I have nothing bothering me right now, so that helps for sure. I told myself, scoring or not, you’ve got to play confident. You can’t get down on yourself.”

After consecutive shutouts to start the losing streak, the Flyers have scored the first goal in each of their last four games with an inability to play with a lead: 2-0 at Winnipeg, 3-1 vs. Calgary 1-0 vs. Winnipeg and 2-1 at New York Islanders.

Four games, four leads and just two points to show for it. 

“It stinks to work real hard to earn that point, and then we gave it away too easily,” Hakstol said. “That’s the part that hurts a little bit. I’m looking for growth in all the areas. Really, tonight, I was looking for the true test of the character of our team, and our team answered and played a helluva character game.”

Friday, it’s Chapter 2 against this same Islanders team. The Flyers are hoping it doesn’t continue to read like the rest.