Flyers

Best of NHL: Capitals' top line dominates in win over Blackhawks

uspresswire-capitals-team-celebrate.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of NHL: Capitals' top line dominates in win over Blackhawks

WASHINGTON -- Tom Wilson had two goals and two assists and Alex Ovechkin had a goal and three assists in the Washington Capitals' 6-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.

Nicklas Backstrom ended a 21-game stretch without a goal and added two assists, and Washington's top-line trio each scored a goal in the first period when the Capitals opened a 3-0 lead. Backstrom hadn't scored since Oct. 14 in Philadelphia, matching the longest drought of his career.

Braden Holtby made 37 saves for Washington to help the Capitals win for the sixth time in seven games. Brett Connolly scored in his third straight game, and Evgeny Kuznetsov added a goal. Wilson had his first four-point game, and Ovechkin also extended his goals streak to three games.

Lance Bouma and Jonathan Toews scored for Chicago. The Blackhawks are 0-3-2 in their last five (see full recap).

Andersen makes 47 saves in Maple Leafs’ SO win
TORONTO -- Frederik Andersen made 47 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped three more shots in a shootout in the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.

William Nylander scored the winner in the fourth round of the shootout, deking to the backhand to beat Mike Smith.

Morgan Rielly scored in regulation for the Maple Leafs. Toronto improved to 18-10-1 and moved into second place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Tampa Bay.

Mark Giordano scored for Calgary, and Smith stopped 28 shots. The Flames have dropped three in a row.

Calgary had control early when Toronto's Matt Martin went to the box midway through the first period. Giordano made Martin pay for his hooking penalty when his wrist shot from the point went through traffic and beat Andersen midway through the first.

Later in the period, Martin checked Troy Brouwer into the boards between the benches, leading to a brief scrum. Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk appeared to spear Martin from the bench while the altercation ensued, but it went undetected by officials (see full recap).

Henrique shines in home debut in Ducks’ shutout
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Henrique scored his first two goals for the Ducks in his home debut, and Ryan Miller made 29 saves for his first shutout for Anaheim in a 3-0 victory over the slumping Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night.

Ondrej Kase also scored, and Henrique added an empty-netter to his second-period opening goal as the Ducks snapped a three-game losing streak, largely controlling a matchup of two conference finalists from last season.

Miller, the 37-year-old veteran signed by Anaheim last summer, posted his 40th career shutout with a confident performance. Although he hasn't played regularly behind John Gibson, Miller remained unbeaten in regulation for his new team (3-0-4).

Henrique has five points in four games with the Ducks, who opened a three-game homestand one night after ending a six-game trip with a shootout loss at Vegas.

Craig Anderson stopped 19 shots in the Senators' ninth loss in 10 games (see full recap).

Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

ap-nolan-patrick-future-flyers-report.jpg
AP Images

Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Nolan Patrick, C, 19, 6-2/198, Flyers (NHL)
You might be asking yourself why you’re seeing Patrick’s name in a report about future Flyers. Patrick made the team out of camp and certainly will not be going back to junior, but with the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship approaching, one has to ask if Patrick should be permitted to participate. At 19 years old, Patrick remains eligible for the tournament.

Last Wednesday, Hockey Canada invited 32 players, including Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart, to its selection camp, which takes place Dec. 12-15. Patrick, along with five other NHLers eligible for Canada, were not invited, but NHL teams have until Dec. 19, which is also the NHL’s holiday break roster freeze, to loan players to Team Canada.

Now back to Patrick. On Sunday afternoon, general manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers will not loan Patrick to Team Canada. Since we know the final decision, let's evaluate what the Flyers had to weigh.

1) Patrick’s role with the Flyers
The Flyers have four games during the WJCs, which begin Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 5, 2018. Canada has two pre-tournament games on Dec. 20 and Dec. 22, and if Patrick were permitted to participate, the Flyers would have been without him for seven games. While the Flyers are in a bigger rebuild than expected, they’re not tanking by any means.

Patrick is centering the Flyers’ fourth line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Both Patrick and Konecny’s ice times have dropped during the Flyers’ successful three-game Western Canada trip. We saw Dave Hakstol shorten his bench as he attempted to protect leads and stop the Flyers’ bleeding. In the now, it was the right decision.

The Flyers snapped a 10-game losing streak last Monday in Calgary and then went on to beat Edmonton and Vancouver. Patrick had just two shifts in the third period in Calgary and three Wednesday night in Edmonton. Thursday, in Vancouver, was an improvement in both ice time and play. Still, he played fourth-line minutes.

“You’re seeing a 19-year-old player who needs to become a pro,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told The Inquirer last week. “He’s a kid. He’s played some good hockey for us; he’s [also] played some hockey that’s not up to the level that he’s established even at his age. The consistency part is something he has to get better at.”

2) Would Patrick benefit from participating in the tournament?
It’s an interesting question and it's one many wishes would have an easy answer. But it’s not as easy as anyone would have liked it to be. Patrick hasn’t had the impact many hoped he would, and could benefit from a brief period against his peers.

Before Patrick suffered a suspected concussion, he was flashing his playmaking ability that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, even though he played in just 33 games in his draft year because of two different core muscle injuries. Since returning from his suspected concussion Nov. 16, Patrick still hasn’t had the influence many want to see from him. There have been good games — Nov. 24 against the Islanders was his best thus far in the NHL. But there have been bad games too — Dec. 2 against Boston and last Monday in Calgary stand out the most.

We can argue Patrick is being misused because of his recent ice time, that playing him an average of 8:55 the past three games doesn’t help his development. But that would ignore Patrick has received ample opportunity. Patrick averaged 12:23 in the eight games prior — all losses — and his play didn’t warrant more minutes. There is a fine line between winning and developing, and when the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, Dave Hakstol had to do something. Shortening his bench during the three games in Western Canada wasn’t bad coaching; in fact, it was the opposite.

Patrick doesn’t look like a confident player right now. His advanced metrics are a mess. He has just two goals and six points in 20 games. The truth is, he hasn’t played much competitive hockey over the past year because of his injuries. The World Junior Championships are as competitive as junior hockey gets. Patrick missed last year’s tournament because of injury.

While sending Patrick back to Brandon is still an option — the Flyers have already burned one year of his entry-level contract — it’s not a realistic one. The Flyers felt Patrick proved himself NHL ready in the preseason, and what Patrick needs is to be challenged. Dominating teenagers in the WHL will not help his development.

But the WJCs is a different animal. It’s a collection of the best under-20 players in the world playing for their countries. The competition is as high as it gets in that age group. In that environment, Patrick could have proved to be a man among boys, but he would face a far more competitive atmosphere than he would in the WHL. It would have offered him a chance to regain some confidence and come back to the Flyers with a morale boost.

Conclusion
We know the Flyers are not sending Patrick to the WJCs. It's another sign the Flyers are committed to being as competitive as they can be while they rebuild. Patrick, even in his struggles, is better than the alternative. It's also an indication the Flyers want Patrick in the NHL and learn from what he's going through right now. Patrick needs to be challenged, and since he's not eligible for the AHL, this is what's best for him.

Quick hits
• Another week, another shutout for Hart. Hart picked up his fifth shutout of the year and his 24th career shutout Friday with a 39-save effort in Everett’s 3-0 win over Spokane.

Hart has won his past nine games, including four last week. He allowed two goals in three games last week. Hart is simply unbeatable right now in the WHL.

• With his hat trick Saturday night, Western Michigan winger Wade Allison is now second in the nation with 14 goals and third in the country with 25 points. Allison also had an assist against Miami Saturday night, and another helper Friday night.

Cooper Marody had three assists Thursday night in Michigan’s 4-0 win over Michigan State. Marody has 20 assists, second in the nation. He’s averaging 1.5 points per game.

Morgan Frost had two more multi-point games last week. His seven-game multi-point streak ended Sunday, but his point streak hit eight games with an assist. During his seven-game multi-point streak, Frost gathered 14 points. He has 43 points in his last 23 games, 33 points in his last 17 games, leads the OHL as a plus-33, second in the OHL with 32 assists and third with 47 points.

Tanner Laczynski helped No. 15 Ohio State sweep No. 7 Minnesota. Laczynski had a goal Friday, and a goal and an assist Saturday. He has 23 points in 18 games this year.

• Acadie-Bathurst center German Rubtsov had a goal and an assist in two games last week. Rubtsov is riding a four-game point streak with the Titan.

Oskar Lindblom had a two-goal week last week. He has six goals and 15 points in 26 games with the Phantoms.

• It was a pretty productive week for Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev, who scored Wednesday and had a goal and an assist Saturday night.

Olle Lycksell, while loaned to IK Oskarshamn for two games, had a must-see shootout dangle last Tuesday. Lycksell had an assist and scored twice in the shootout.

• Guelph’s Isaac Ratcliffe had four assists in three games last week.

Linus Högberg has made Team Sweden’s preliminary roster for the WJCs.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).