Flyers

After players-only meeting, Flyers unable to put a finger on issues

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After players-only meeting, Flyers unable to put a finger on issues

VOORHEES, N.J. — If a players-only meeting lends the appearance the Flyers are grasping at straws, that’s probably because the team can’t explain how it has managed to lose nine in a row. Or, more importantly, how exactly it's going to turn its season around.

Back at practice on Thursday, the Flyers divulged little from the closed-door conversation that followed a 3-1 loss to the Sharks two days earlier. But they did put on a united front and promised there will be no finger-pointing to come.

“It’s frustrating going through this stretch, but it was more or less we have each other’s backs,” Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We got into this together, we’re going to get out of it together.”

With the defeats beginning to pile up, and concerns over Flyers coach Dave Hakstol’s job security intensifying, perhaps players simply felt the need to address the atmosphere inside the locker room.

“It’s not nice air around here when you don’t win for nine games in a row,” said Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, who’s currently serving a 10-game suspension. “The guys have a little better feeling of which way we’re going to head and what we need to do to get the two points in our next game.”

As far as solutions to halting a skid that’s almost three weeks in the making, it didn’t sound as though the Flyers touched on anything overly specific during the meeting.

“No one is happy about what’s going on, but we’re sticking together,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said. “Everyone has their part of responsibility during this stretch. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and be better.”

The question is: Better at what exactly?

To be honest, the Flyers don’t seem entirely certain of the answer.

The Flyers have lost games when they couldn’t score goals, others when they couldn’t hold leads. There have been games when the power play has failed them, others when they weren’t able to kill enough penalties.

It’s little things. And it’s a little bit of everything.

“There’s probably a couple of areas of our game where we have to simplify things for sure, even mentally, trying to do things with a real clear purpose,” Hakstol said. “But we still have to continue adding detail to our game.”

Even when looking at one phase under the microscope, such as a struggling Flyers penalty kill that’s allowed 10 goals over the last six games, the dilemma is multifaceted and complex.

“We’ve looked at trying to change it up a little bit with some of the personnel, but it’s not that easy,” Hakstol said. “If it was that simple, you would flip that switch right away.

“You can say we’ve given up PK goals, but it’s different areas that we’ve given them up in terms of the type of goals.”

Despite inconsistencies across the board, some Flyers players also don’t necessarily feel the team has played as poorly as the 0-4-5 record would indicate.

“We’re not playing bad for nine games,” Couturier said. “There’s a bit of bad luck. We have to keep working hard, sticking together and create our own bounces, creating our own luck. Things eventually have to go our way.”

The proliferation of overtime and shootout losses might support Couturier’s case. Just one play here, one play there, and we’re not talking about how the Flyers have merely been mediocre in November as opposed to being mired in a weeks-long losing streak.

Others feel while the performance on the ice hasn’t been as unsatisfactory as the results, players are pressing as the slump drags on.

“Even though we were playing well during the start of this drought, we weren’t getting wins, we weren’t scoring goals, and during those kinds of times, you tend to reach a little bit more,” MacDonald said. “Guys maybe tried to do too much.

“It’s certainly not a fault for effort or anything like that. It’s more than anything wanting to help the team win even more. It’s tough when those things happen. You try to do a little bit too much, then you’re out of position and it kind of snowballs a little bit.”

Still, the only common thread here is the lack of a common thread at all. It’s the little things, and it’s the big things. The game plan is neither simple nor detailed enough. It’s mental, but it’s bad luck.

Maybe the Flyers, with a young, retooling roster that missed the playoffs last season, are growing through some inevitable growing pains.

“We just have to be better,” Couturier said. “It’s plain and simple. It’s a lot of little things, but we just have to be better overall.”

Stuck in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points in 25 games, the Flyers need to get a lot better — and that’s not going to be easy if they haven’t figured out what the problem is.

Hakstol on Martel, Weal
Despite returning Danick Martel to the Phantoms on Wednesday, the Flyers were impressed with the rookie forward’s speed. The 22-year-old’s stamina, on the other hand, is still a work in progress.

“He really added a ton of energy, especially early on,” Hakstol said. “The last game here we had a lot of tired legs, and he was one of them, but he showed he has that burst that can impact games a little bit offensively.”

Martel appeared in four games for the Flyers, registering a minus-1 and six shots on goal. However, he was limited to just 12 shifts and under nine minutes of ice time in each of his last two contests, a decision Hakstol made as the winger’s speed diminished.

“I didn’t think he was all that effective as we were going through that game,” Hakstol said of Tuesday’s contest against the Sharks. “He has to have that burst in order to play the way he needs to play to generate offensive opportunities. Back end of a back-to-back, he didn’t have that burst.”

With Jordan Weal ready to return to the lineup after sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch, it sounds like we’ve seen the last of Martel with the Flyers for a little while.

“He just needs to keep working towards it,” Hakstol said. “It was a real good opportunity for him to play his first National Hockey League games, and we saw a lot of things we liked in him.”

As for Weal, the Flyers are hoping the second-year player can get back on track. After recording two goals and four assists over his first 14 games this season, he is scoreless with a minus-3 rating in his last seven.

“He needs to hit the restart button and have a fresh start, and that’s exactly what this opportunity should provide for him is a fresh start,” Hakstol said.

“His work ethic, his passion, none of that is lacking, nor has it ever been. It’s a little bit of a restart for him so he can get back in the lineup and have that fresh feel and fresh start.”

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

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Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

We are deep into the season of giving and the Flyers just keep giving fans exactly what they want: wins.

OK, sorry for that seasonal yet corny intro, but the fact remains the Flyers are on a tear right now, and it continued this past week with three more sound wins to push their winning streak past a handful to six games.

This week got off to the right skate with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory Tuesday over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The good vibes kept coming Thursday with a grind-it-out 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. And the week ended on the highest of notes Saturday night with a 2-1 OT win at home over the Dallas Stars.

Well, well, well … they’re back, aren’t they?

And before the Flyers push for seven straight Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, let’s look back at the successful week that was, shall we?

• The Flyers' three wins this week were good, solid wins over the Leafs, Sabres, and Stars. When you’re still trying to claw out of the hole a 10-game losing streak put you in, all wins are good, solid wins right now. But these three Flyers wins this past week weren’t of the most exciting variety. Let’s be blunt, all three wins were mostly boring.

Tuesday’s triumph over the Leafs was sleepy until Travis Konecny’s tying seeing-eye shot in the third and then Claude Giroux’s fantastic through-the-legs pass that led to Sean Couturier’s wicked wrister of a winner. Thursday’s win over Buffalo was a snoozer for the better part of 50 minutes. And Saturday’s victory over Dallas, while chippy, didn’t have much action to it outside of Shayne Gostisbehere’s heroics.

But the Flyers aren’t caring about being exciting and neither should you right now because it’s working for them. Jake Voracek’s quote after the Buffalo game says it all.

“I thought this was a boring game,” Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Yes, they can play better. But two points are two points right now, no matter how boring. Simply put, boring is working.

• So why the sudden turnaround for the Flyers? There’s a multitude of reasons — timely scoring, better defensive efforts and Brian Elliott playing like a rock in net, just to name a few.

But one major reason: discipline. In the three games this past week, the Flyers took three penalties total, on in each game. Dating back to Dec. 4 when this six-game win streak began in Calgary, the Flyers have faced just nine power plays against. Compare that to the 22 power plays the Flyers have had in the same span.

That’s a gigantic boost for a team that, as of Sunday morning, is still 29th in the league with a 76.7 percent success rate on the PK.

How do you cure something that ails you? Don’t put yourself in the situation.

• When Gostisbehere is at his very best, he can just dominate a game with his elusiveness, booming shot and dynamic offensive ability. And that’s just what we saw Saturday night against the Stars as Gostisbehere was a dangerous entity all over the ice and controlled the game when the puck was on his stick.

He brought the Wells Fargo Center to life with his second-period power-play goal that saw him dive a lift a rebound past Dallas goalie Ben Bishop. And then he unglued the place with his game-winner in OT on the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“Ghost” is such a key piece for the Flyers as so much of the offense tends to be filtered through him when he’s on the ice, and especially so on the power play. We saw what happened when he wasn’t playing up to his abilities during the 10-game skid. But the Gostisbehere we saw against the Stars is just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. And it shows just why.

• Good for Travis Sanheim getting the monkey off his back and potting the first goal of his NHL career during Thursday’s victory over Buffalo.     

During the first period, Sanheim took a feed from Dale Weise and deposited home a one-timer from the circle to knot the game at 1-1. Sure, he got a little help from Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who lounged wildly at the shot. But still, Sanheim made no mistake as he went top shelf with it. And he got the puck and the Ric Flair robe after the game to boot.

It’s just a slight taste of what the 21-year-old offensive-minded blueliner can do. In three junior seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Sanheim scored 35 goals. He potted 10 in 76 games with the Phantoms last season.

He can score, and as he gets more and more comfortable at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see him light the lamp more often.

• Here’s your obvious observation of the week: What a difference two weeks makes.

When the Flyers were shut out by the Bruins 15 days ago, morale was as low as it had been in a long time. Nothing was going right. No breaks went their way. No bounces even came close. The list of misfortunes could go on and on and on. On the morning of Dec. 3, the Flyers had just 22 points, fifth-fewest in the league. They were nine points behind the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here we are two weeks and change (and six wins in a row) later and the Flyers have 35 points and are just four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East.

Hope you guys like roller coasters.

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Los Angeles (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday vs. Detroit (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Friday at. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday at Columbus (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

BOX SCORE

The Flyers developed a Muhammad Ali-type mentality Saturday night.

It was hockey’s version of the rope-a-dope, where the Flyers took the Dallas Stars' best punches early on before going the distance, eventually wearing down an opponent that was playing their third game in four nights.

The end result was a 2-1 Flyers victory, extending their season-high winning streak to six games (see observations).

In fact, the Stars attempted to set the tone on the opening shift when Stars captain Jamie Benn tried to rattle the cage of Claude Giroux. They tangled on their way back to the bench with Benn extending his glove underneath Giroux’s chin.

“We knew they were going to have a good push at the start of the game,” Brian Elliott, who has started all six games of the winning streak, said. "We knew they wouldn't be able to keep it up playing a back-to-back. I thought our guys did a really good job of sticking to that game plan and staying patiently persistent."

The Flyers also knew the Stars would come out of the gates flying after a disappointing 5-2 loss at New Jersey the night before.

“We’ve been on the other side of it,” Giroux said. “Playing a back-to-back, it’s not easy, especially when you’re traveling and we really wanted to take advantage of that. Other teams took advantage of us before.”

The Flyers started to turn up the heat in the opening minutes of the second period when they controlled play with extended shifts in the Stars' end of the ice, coupled with a pair of breakaway opportunities from Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek.

“That (second) period was the one for me where we pushed the game in our direction,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was during the second period we were able to use everybody. Everybody was going and that allowed us to raise the pace of play a little bit.”

The Flyers were also propelled by their power play that finished the game 2 for 6 and a whopping 12 shots on net. After scoring on a rebound that deflected off the backboards, Shayne Gostisbehere landed the knockout blow with 1:10 remaining in overtime when "Ghost" blasted an overtime slapper during the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“A lot of that power play was going rover," Gostisbehere, who scored his fifth career overtime winner, said, "but you could tell we were feeding off each other, finding lanes and we were just relentless and a goal at the end just showed we weren't giving up there."

Stars coach and former Flyers bench boss Ken Hitchcock was attempting, for the second time, to become the third coach in NHL history to win 800 career games. Much of the reason he didn’t achieve the milestone was the careless penalties of forward Alexander Radulov, which led to both of the Flyers' power-play goals.

“It’s not team discipline, it’s individual,” Hitchcock said. “It’s disappointing to fight like we fought and battle. Come off, playing hard like this off a back-to-back, it’s really disappointing to take those two penalties at the end of the game.”

The Flyers also snapped a seven-game losing streak in contests that extended after regulation. The Flyers had dropped five of those in overtime and another two in the shootout.

“I thought we had a really positive attitude,” Elliott said. “I think everyone thought we would go out there for overtime and win. I didn’t think anybody had any doubts or anything. That’s all you can ask for going into those situations.” 

“I liked the way we approached overtime,” Hakstol said. “I didn’t think we pressed or pushed anything. We weren’t taking any long shifts, no high risk plays. I thought guys just went out and did their job and did it the right way.”

Right now, it’s a Flyers team that may not be floating like a butterfly, but they can certainly sting like a bee.