Flyers

Best of NHL: League-best Lightning spoil Ben Bishop's return

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Best of NHL: League-best Lightning spoil Ben Bishop's return

TAMPA, Fla. -- Steven Stamkos had two goals and two assists, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves to beat his mentor Ben Bishop, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 6-1 Thursday night.

Vasilevskiy was Bishop's backup in Tampa Bay for parts of three seasons until Bishop was dealt to Los Angeles last February. Bishop holds the Lightning career wins record with 131, while Vasilevskiy has gone 26-5-3 since taking over the starting role. This was Bishop's first game against Tampa Bay since the trade.

Stamkos has 10 goals and an NHL-best 35 points after missing most of last season with a lateral meniscus tear.

Mikhail Sergachev, Brayden Point, Jake Dotchin and Nikita Kucherov also scored for the Lightning, who have the NHL's best record at 15-2-2.

Dallas, which went 0-2-1 on a three-city, four-day trip, got a goal from Radek Faksa. Bishop stopped 22 shots (see full recap).
    
Wild use 4 late goals to rally past Predators
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Jason Zucker scored with 2:55 left and the Minnesota Wild scored four goals in less than six minutes in the third period to beat the Nashville Predators 6-4 on Thursday night.

Jared Spurgeon scored twice and Eric Staal had a goal and two assists for Minnesota, which won its fourth straight.

On the winner, Mikko Koivu fought off a defenseman into the left corner and centered to Zucker in front. With two defenders nearby, Zucker sent a backhand shot past Pekka Rinne for his eighth goal in five games.

Spurgeon added an empty-net goal. Matt Dumba and Nino Niederreiter also scored.

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk with a franchise-record shutout streak of 195 minutes, 5 seconds. That ended 49 seconds in when Ryan Johansen converted a pass from Filip Forsberg, the first goal allowed by Dubnyk on 108 shots. He finished with 26 saves.

Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Viktor Arvidsson also scored for Nashville, which lost for the first time in six games (see full recap).

Coyotes battle back for 1st regulation win
MONTREAL -- Derek Stepan and Christian Fischer scored power-play goals in the third period and the Arizona Coyotes rallied to beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 on Thursday night for their first regulation victory of the season.

Brad Richardson, Christian Dvorak and Tobias Rieder also scored for the Coyotes, and Antti Raanta made 33 saves. Arizona snapped a five-game losing streak to improve to 3-15-3.

Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Joe Morrow and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, and Charlie Lindgren stopped 27 shots.

With the Coyotes down 4-3 in the third period, Stepan got Arizona level for the third time in the game with a wrist shot from the crease at 4:54 following a failed clearance by Jordie Benn. Gallagher was in the box for tripping.

Arizona scored again on the power play at 10:10, this time with Weber penalized for slashing, when Brendan Perlini's shot ricocheted off Fischer's stick and in.

Rieder made it 3-3 with 51 seconds left in the second, but Weber answered back 40 seconds later.

The Coyotes scored five goals for the first time this season. They had a combined five goals in their previous four games (see full recap).

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kinda push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable are faceoffs — an area where Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the Top 3 once again barring he remains healthy.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,”  Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago. 

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

When the Flyers last skated off the ice at the Wells Fargo Center 11 days ago, they did so while being serenaded with boos from above, after losing their 10th straight game. This time, to the Bruins with another lethargic effort. The game prior, on Nov. 28 against the Sharks, the fans, like the angry mob from The Simpsons, were calling for the firing of the head coach with “Fire Hakstol” chants. The only thing missing were the pitchforks. (Public service announcement: Leave the pitchforks at home.)

On Tuesday night, the Flyers returned home from a three-game Western Canada road gauntlet with their fortunes changed and beginning a five-game homestand. They had won their previous three games and entered Tuesday’s showdown with the NHL’s hottest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, six points behind the New York Rangers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

For a team in a competitive rebuild that, at times, looked like one waiting for its coach to get fired, the Flyers returned home having stopped the bleeding away from their own building. Now, they had to bandage it there.

The Flyers did just that, with one of their most complete, 60-minute efforts of the season (see story). They dispatched the Maple Leafs, 4-2, to win their fourth straight and end a six-game home losing streak. It was their first home win since Nov. 9.

They took one penalty, albeit a costly one that would have sunk this team 11 days ago.

They outshot Toronto, 39-22, and threw 32 shots on net in the final 40 minutes.

They dominated puck possession and every metric proves it.

“We were playing some good hockey and I think our identity changed a little bit with that road trip,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re excited right now in the room. We played a lot of good hockey games when we lost, but we didn’t get the results and now we're playing some good hockey and we’re getting the results so we gotta keep building on this."

Now they’re getting the results.

The Flyers are on their longest winning streak of the season. They twice faced adversity Tuesday against the Maple Leafs and didn’t buckle.

Giroux scored the game’s first goal at 9:21 of the first period, but Patrick Marleau answered back for the Leafs just 27 seconds later. Eleven days ago, that would be game over.

Instead, the Flyers kept playing and closed out the period strong. Then, after dominating the second period, Jakub Voracek was whistled for a tripping penalty at 16:11, and James van Riemsdyk tallied his 15th goal of the season to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. It was a potential killer goal, one that would have deflated the Flyers 11 days ago, no questions asked. It came late in a period that they dominated. It felt like typical Flyers.

But the Flyers survived it. They escaped the period, went into the locker room and came back out in the third period right where they left off. Travis Konecny, who played just 7:20 through two periods, tied it at 2-2 at 5:36. The Flyers kept pushing and pushing. They were rewarded too. Sean Couturier tied his career-high with his 15th goal at 17:05 for the game-winner and then Scott Laughton iced it with an empty-netter at 19:44. It was the Flyers’ first third-period comeback of the season.

“We’re working hard and we haven’t stopped working hard,” Konecny, who scored his second goal in his last 20 games, said, “even through [that] tough stretch of games and it’s finally paying off.”

This Flyers team is a lot looser right now. Winning does that. During their 10-game freefall into irrelevance, they swore they weren't playing poorly.

And once more, they echoed that Tuesday night, even after a win. Now, they're just taking advantage of the breaks, getting the bounces, insert tired cliché here.

“I don’t think there’s much difference at all,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “If you want to look back, I thought there were one or two nights where we looked tight. I thought on the last night here at home, I thought we looked like a tired and a little bit tight hockey team.

“We've taken advantage of a break or two, but I think most importantly, guys just kept their foot on the gas and found ways to win games here over the past few games."

Credit goes to the Flyers, the coaching staff and general manager Ron Hextall. They didn't panic when things were falling apart. Hakstol remained positive, harped on the positives. He promised they would get through it.

Hextall did the same. The GM, on several occasions, praised the way the Flyers were playing during their losing streak. For as much heat as Hakstol and Hextall caught at the time, they deserve recognition for their managing styles in times of dismay.

The Flyers' win Tuesday kicked off a five-game homestand that features three games against Eastern Conference opponents, and perhaps set the tone for the home swing.

The homestand continues Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres visit. If the Flyers play with the same effort they did Tuesday, the winning streak will reach five.

They’re taking fewer penalties, averaging 1.75 penalties during their current four-game winning streak. That’s a good thing for a team that’s penalty kill ranks 29th.

But what might matters most, is they're not chasing the game anymore. They're owning the puck and they're spending more time on the attack, and that’s a recipe for success.

“We’ve had the puck a little bit more,” Hakstol said,” and that’s probably the first place to look. We had a stretch there where stick penalties were getting us.

“Those kinds of penalties happen when you’re chasing a game when you’re defending a little bit too much. It’s not necessarily the discipline side of it. We’ve had the puck a little bit more. We haven’t had to defend as much in our own zone.”