While it didn’t hit the most screeching of halts, the Flyers’ recent sleigh ride of success did a few road bumps this week before the clock struck Christmas Eve.
The six-game win streak is a thing of December past now and the Flyers hit the holiday break losers of three of four games this past week.
The streak was snapped Monday with a 4-1 defeat at the hand of the visiting Los Angeles Kings. The winning ways returned Wednesday with a hard-fought 4-3 at home over the Detroit Red Wings. Then is right back on the losing track Friday with a dud of a 4-2 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. And then the week was capped with yet another loss in Columbus, this one a 2-1 decision in a shootout.
You might have some holiday cookies or some eggnog to get to, so let’s not wait any longer and hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.
• As we sit here at the holiday break, a popular exercise is to look back on the first three months of the season and try to name a Flyers MVP thus far.
Sean Couturier rightfully could be at the top of many observers’ lists with his team-leading 16 goals. Claude Giroux is back to his point-producing self with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points. Jake Voracek is tied for the NHL lead with 36 assists and leads the team with 44 points. And Ivan Provorov is an indispensable rock on the blue line. But my vote would go to netminder Brian Elliott.
Elliott has been a tremendous, steadying anchor for a Flyers team that has lost its way more than once this season. On the campaign, he’s 13-8-7 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. But he’s been so much more than that. He’s given the Flyers chances to win almost every night in and night out. That’s all these Flyers could ask for and more with an offense that has struggled so mightily at times. Even during the brutal 10-game skid, Elliott was rock-solid in net.
But he proved his worth to the team again this week as he was solid against both L.A. and Detroit and superb against both Buffalo and Columbus in losing efforts. Thursday in Buffalo, he stopped 33 of 35 shots faced, many of which were supreme testers. Yes, he let a leaky one in, but that happens to every goalie every now and then. Against Columbus, his 11th straight start, no less, he took a hard-luck shootout loss with 35 saves on 36 shots faced. That’s all been a microcosm of what he’s done all season. He’s held the Flyers above water to be where they’re at as of Sunday, just four points out of a playoff spot.
• What an ugly effort Friday night in Buffalo. Save for the final five minutes of the second period and the late, two-goal flurry in the third, the Flyers were overmatched by a struggling Sabres club that entered the contest as the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Not even Elliott’s heroics in net could save the Flyers from a pitiful loss that saw the Sabres out-compete them at almost every turn, including a 1 for 5 power-play effort that doesn’t rightfully depict how bad it was.
Look, bad losses are going to happen all throughout the season, but that one was just inexcusable. Those are games the good teams — *cough* the playoff teams *cough* — win. That kind of effort just isn’t going to work for these Flyers. They don’t have enough to get by like that.
• The loss in Buffalo left such a bad taste in Dave Hakstol’s mouth he decided to throw his lines into the proverbial blender and shake things up.
The biggest change saw Wayne Simmonds moved off the first line and 20-year-old Travis Konecny bumped up to that spot. It’s an intriguing move and one that is worth trying.
Despite recent success, the Flyers are still yearning for offense. And Konecny has oodles and oodles of offensive talent that’s just waiting to get unleashed. Playing alongside such skilled players as Couturier and Giroux can only help unleash that offensive firepower in the second-year winger.
Now, Konecny has found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse a time or two for his high-risk, turnover-increased style of play. But that’s where being alongside Couturier and Giroux can also help. Those two players are so defensively responsible that it can allow Konecny to have more offensive freedom to roam and therefore enhance his creativity.
He didn’t have shot on goal in Columbus, but Konecny was very noticeable on his new line. This is a big opportunity for him, and it’s up to him to capitalize on it.
• It was a week of ups and downs for rookie defenseman Robert Hagg.
On Wednesday, he ripped home his first NHL goal when he powered a slapper from above the circle through Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and then earned the Ric Flair victory robe from his teammates.
Things did not go as well Friday in Buffalo when Hagg, normally steady as can be, endured perhaps his worst game as a Flyer. He had an awful giveaway that led to a breakaway and eventually an Evander Kane penalty shot Elliott had to stop. Then he took a bad holding penalty on Zemgus Girgensons moments after. That all set the stage for a rough outing overall.
With as good as Hagg has played, it’s tough to remember sometimes that he’s a rookie. Games like Friday in Buffalo harsh reminders. But such is the life of a rookie in the NHL.
• You guys know who’s pretty good? That Sergei Bobrovsky guy, that's who. Sheesh.
Coming up this week: Thursday at Florida (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Friday at Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP)