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.”

Travis Konecny answering Flyers' call of duty

Travis Konecny answering Flyers' call of duty

Travis Konecny is one of a handful of young Flyers who thrives on confrontation, lining up an opponent in his crosshairs and going for the kill.

And that’s just his profile in Call of Duty — the popular war-based video game he plays occasionally with teammates.

And while Konecny didn't show up on the scoresheet Sunday evening, he still answered his call of duty, leading the charge in a variety of ways in the Flyers' 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals that inched the Flyers within four points of the division-leading Caps and two points of Pittsburgh for second place. All three teams return to action Tuesday with the Flyers in Detroit.

Battered, bloodied and perhaps a little beaten, Konecny was determined that the Capitals weren’t going to get the best of him.

“I just think I’ve learned in the two years I’ve been here it doesn’t matter what your role is on the team,” Konecny said after the game. “Everybody buys in, everybody blocks shots, everyone goes to the net, everyone backchecks. I think it’s a part of me that’s learned to become a Philadelphia Flyer.”

The orange and black uniform was only a cover for the black and blue bruises Konecny’s body endured. In the third period, he stood directly in the line of fire of Christian Djoos’s shot and then limped back to the locker room. On his next shift, Konecny blocked another shot from Dmitri Orlov.

Even after giving all the postgame interviews, Konecny was still limping. The playing surface at the Wells Fargo Center may not have had enough ice for all of his sore spots.

“He’s got the heart of a lion and I think you’ve seen that all year long,” said Wayne Simmonds, who tallied twice in the win. “I kept telling him that’s what winners are made of. It’s the type of effort we’re going to need from every single guy in this dressing room. He blocks one shot, he gets up slowly, gets back on the ice, blocks another.”

The clean-cut and rather reserved Konecny that came to the Flyers as a 19-year-old rookie last season has now been replaced with a more brash, tattoo-sporting, always-chirping Konecny with a longer hair style and the appearance of facial hair.

The only missing element to complete the look is a leather biker’s jacket.  

That rugged toughness was on display again when he dropped the gloves with Washington winger T.J. Oshie and bloodied his knuckles 7:41 into the third period.

“I just got high-sticked right before,” Konecny said. “I got frustrated and I finished my hit on him. Not a bad guy to take off the ice when they’re trying to score."

“It was awesome. It was great to see,” said Simmonds. “You see him get high-sticked there. He didn’t quit on the play and kept going. He battles with a guy who’s probably 20 pounds bigger, maybe more than that. It was a great emotional leap for the team in the third period there. Unbelievable job and kudos to him.”

Konecny, who has 19 goals and 22 asissts on the season and has earned Dave Hakstol's trust with a bump up to the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, has quickly rounded into a five-tool player this season with speed, playmaking, a scoring touch with a hard-nosed edge. Much like Brad Marchand with the Bruins, that type of player becomes vital once the postseason rolls around.

“It gives the bench a good injection of life,” said Hakstol. “They love it and guys love to see that on the bench. I think that’s what our guys expect, but it’s always great when you see one guy doing it.”  

Which is probably why Konecny enjoys that other Call of Duty. Another game with a similar approach, except a lot less painful.

Raffl out
General manager Ron Hextall announced Monday morning that forward Michael Raffl will miss two weeks with an upper-body injury suffered in the second period against the Capitals Sunday. Raffl, who has 11 goals and eight assists this year, had been seeing some time on the top line with Giroux and Couturier recently.

Future Flyers Report — Anthony Stolarz's long road back to playing

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Future Flyers Report — Anthony Stolarz's long road back to playing

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 24, 6-6/232, Reading (ECHL)
It was a long road back but Stolarz found his way back on the ice last week.

Stolarz began his rehab stint with the Royals and it doesn’t appear to be a long one. Per Jason Guarente, Stolarz packed up his gear Saturday and appears headed back to Lehigh Valley.

With Reading, Stolarz allowed six goals on 61 shots. As of this post, he has yet to be recalled.

The 24-year-old had been out since last April and underwent left knee surgery in September. Now that he’s back on the ice, expect Stolarz to see some AHL action. He’s on a one-year deal.

Carter Hart, G, 19, 6-1/177, Everett (WHL)
Well, some disappointing news first. He failed to break the WHL shutout record, allowing one goal in Everett’s final regular-season game. He finishes his junior career with 26 shutouts.

Hart enjoyed one of the best junior seasons ever from a goalie and dominated the WHL. He led the league in goals-against average (1.60), save percentage (.947) and shutouts (7). The disparity between Hart and the No. 2 goalie, Cole Kehler, in GAA is remarkable. Hart finished with more than a goal better average than Kehler’s 2.77. Griffin Outhouse was second in save percentage, with .914. Hart was head and shoulders above his peers in the WHL.

Up next, the WHL playoffs. Then next season, the AHL. Hart watch is ramping up.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Frost’s quest to lead the OHL in points came up short but the Flyers' “other” 2017 first-round pick finished his draft-plus-1 season as a 1.67 point-per-game player.

The 18-year-old’s regular season ended Sunday with a goal and an assist. He finished the season with 42 goals, 70 assists and 112 points and led the OHL as a plus-70 player. Next up is the OHL playoffs.

Let’s cool the jets on the Frost on the Flyers talk next season. There is a chance he outshines the competition in training camp but he still needs to bulk up a considerable amount.

March Madness
The NCAA Tournament begins Friday. It’ll feature four Flyers prospects, Michigan’s Cooper Marody and Brendan Warren, Ohio State’s Tanner Laczynski and Clarkson’s Terrance Amorosa.

Quick Hits
• Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev remained hot last week with two assists in three weekend games. He has eight points in his last nine games.

• Pascal Laberge’s point streak reached nine games before ending Friday. He finished the regular season with 47 points in 64 games between Quebec and Victoriaville.

• Matthew Strome, who signed his entry-level contract last week, finished the regular season with Hamilton with 37 goals and 68 points.

Isaac Ratcliffe’s season wrapped up on a four-game point streak and three-game goal streak. Ratcliffe led Guelph with 41 goals and 68 points.

• The Flyers signed Maksim Sushko to his entry-level contract. Sushko finished with 31 goals and 60 points. Five of the Flyers’ seven 2017 draft picks have signed.