Brian Elliott's outstanding effort goes to waste

Brian Elliott's outstanding effort goes to waste


BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shut out for nearly 58 minutes on Friday night, the Flyers got goals from Michael Raffl and Shayne Gostisbehere on the closing shifts but couldn’t finish the comeback job in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo’s Robin Lehner stopped 33 shots and engaged in a goaltending duel with Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott (33 saves) for two scoreless periods before goals from the Sabres' Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane in the third built a 2-0 lead. Jack Eichel added two empty-net goals. 

The Flyers entered the night three points out of a playoff spot, having won seven of eight since the 0-5-5 skid that included three shutout losses. The Sabres are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL and have the worst record (9-19-7) in the Eastern Conference.

Raffl scored on a power play after the Flyers pulled Elliott to gain a 6-on-4 advantage with 2:10 remaining. Gostisbehere whistled in a wrist shot from the right circle with 38 seconds remaining, in between Eichel’s goals.

O’Reilly broke a scoreless tie four minutes into the third period when his shot from the behind the red line on the left side of the net burrowed behind the right pad of Elliott and into the net. Kane made it 2-0 with 8:52 left in the game when he deflected a high shot past Elliott.

• Elliott got his 10th straight start in net and played in his 400th NHL game. He entered the game 12-2-1 in his career against the Sabres

Elliott showed little sign of fatigue — or dizziness from standing on his head — while making 16 saves in the first period. He swatted away Kane, Buffalo’s leading scorer, on a penalty shot early in the first and slid across the crease to stuff Sabres star Jack Eichel at the doorstep on a power play later in the period.

With Michal Neuvirth (lower body) not yet cleared to return and rookie Alex Lyon yet to make his NHL debut, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol is leaning on Elliott to play every night. 

“He’s been real good for us, he’s feeling good, he’s feeling strong and there’s no reason we wouldn’t go back to him,” said Hakstol on Friday, morning while noting he had not yet decided who would start Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back in Columbus.

Hakstol said before the game he had not yet made a decision on who would start Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back in Columbus.

• The Flyers scored on the power play for the seventh time in nine games but struggled to create scoring chances on multiple opportunities with the man-advantage before falling behind 2-0.

Playing 5-on-3 for 40 seconds during the third period, the Flyers did not put a shot on goal. The best chance on what turned out to be a 3:20 power play came when Jake Voracek shot high on a one-timer from the right circle.

The Flyers put four shots on net during two power plays in the second period, but none challenged Lehner. He had to make just one save on the Flyers' second opportunity, while the Sabres cleared the puck three times. 

Buffalo has been perfect on the penalty kill over its previous five games.

• Jake Voracek assisted on both goals to bring his NHL-leading tally up to 36. He has a point in five straight. Claude Giroux also had two assists and extended his point streak to four games.

• Voracek shared some of the secret sauce fueling the Flyers’ recent surge following Friday’s morning skate.

“We got drunk,” Voracek told reporter Joe Yerdon. “That helped. We sat down together, talked about some stuff we wanted to do better. We had some heart-to-hearts and it worked out so it was good.”

• Coming off a game in which he scored his first NHL goal, defenseman Robert Hagg made a couple rookie mistakes in the first period. Hagg’s giveaway in the neutral zone sent Kane on the breakaway that led to Gostisbehere’s takedown and the ensuing penalty shot. Hagg also took a hooking penalty in the period.

• Jori Lehtera replaced Taylor Leier (upper-body) on the fourth line for the second straight game. Defenseman Mark Alt was a healthy scratch.

• This was the Flyers’ only trip to Buffalo this season. They defeated the Sabres 2-1 at Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 14 and wrap up the season series in Philadelphia on Jan. 7.

• At Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, where the Sabres played from 1970-96, chairs in the cheap seats were painted orange. On Friday night, the color was smattered around several sections near the ice at KeyBank Center, with Flyers fans surely finding good prices on the secondary market from disgruntled Sabres’ season-ticket holders

• The Flyers play for the seventh time in 12 days Saturday night at Columbus before getting a four-day break. It will be Hakstol’s 200th game behind the bench. 

Claude Julien gets last laugh in return to Boston

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Claude Julien gets last laugh in return to Boston

BOSTON -- David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner each scored an early goal, Tuukka Rask stopped 21 shots and the Bruins beat Montreal 4-1 Wednesday night in Canadiens coach Claude Julien's return to Boston.

The surging Bruins have earned at least a point in 14 straight games (10-0-4), their longest stretch since going 15-0-1 in March 2014.

Brad Marchand added a power-play goal in the third period, David Krejci had an empty-netter and Patrice Bergeron had two assists for Boston, which posted its second win over the Canadiens in five days. The teams meet again in Montreal on Saturday night.

Jakub Jerabek scored his first NHL goal for Montreal, and Carey Price made 28 saves.

Julien, who coached Boston's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2011, was fired last Feb. 7 in his 10th season. He was replaced by assistant and current Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who opted for more up-tempo, charge-into-the-zone play from his defensemen as opposed to Julien's mostly defensive-minded style.

Rask extended his career-best point streak to 15 games (13-0-2), including a 4-3 shootout win at Montreal last Saturday (see full recap).

Ducks score 4 in 2nd period to beat Penguins
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rickard Rakell and Adam Henrique scored 1:35 apart to Anaheim the lead during its four-goal second period, and the Ducks went on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 Wednesday night.

Chris Wagner and Ondrej Kase also scored for Anaheim in the middle period, and Hampus Lindholm added an empty-netter in the final second of the game. John Gibson stopped 30 shots to help the Ducks improve to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

Anaheim scored four goals in a period for first time since doing it in the third period at Buffalo last Feb. 9.

Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game win streak. Tristan Jarry made 28 saves.

With the Ducks trailing 1-0, Rakell tied it on a redirect of a shot by Francois Beauchemin at 4:17 of the second. Henrique then put them ahead at 5:42, beating Jarry with a wraparound while the rookie was caught flatfooted at the opposite post trying to get his stick back.

Wagner scored on a short-handed breakaway to make it 3-1 at 9:24, notching the third special-teams goal of his career, all of which have come this season.

Kase's smooth breakaway backhand with 1:32 left in the period capped off the scoring deluge. Kase, who also had an assist, has five points in his last three games (see full recap).

Where is Dave Hakstol's sixth sense?

Where is Dave Hakstol's sixth sense?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Movie director M. Night Shyamalan may have created the sixth sense, and some of the more successful coaches in the NHL actually possess it. 

No, not the ability to see dead people, but rather, the recognition of assessing in-game situations and taking an immediate and proactive course of action before the team and the game itself begins to unravel.

Predators coach and former Flyers bench boss Peter Laviolette had an uncanny ability to utilize his only timeout at a moment when the team needed desperately to refocus during a stretch of poor hockey. Laviolette may have signaled for one during a lackluster first period or at the first sign of trouble in the third period.

He’d rip the gum out of his mouth and begin the process of chewing out his guys. His face would turn red and his temperature would rise as if it was measured by the red liquid in a thermometer. More often than not, Laviolette’s teams responded swiftly and appropriately to his message. He had an ability to seize the moment when others may not have seen it coming.

It’s a club Hakstol simply doesn’t have in his bag.

Hakstol prefers to hold onto his timeout predictably when the Flyers are down a goal late in the third period to draw up a play on the dry-erase board or to give his players a breather following an icing call. Rarely, if ever, is that timeout taken in an effort to overcome the opposition’s surge of momentum.

Same can be said for Hakstol’s decision to make a goaltending change.

In the Flyers' two most recent lopsided losses, both 5-1 setbacks to the Penguins and Rangers, Hakstol chose to pull Elliott after two periods with the outcomes pretty much decided heading into the third period. 

Regarding the Flyers' loss to New York Tuesday night: "We put [Elliott] in a pretty tough spot," Hakstol said postgame (see story). "Looking back on it, I could make the change after the fourth goal, but I felt like we put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game."

While every coach seems to possess hindsight, not every coach has the appropriate sense of foresight. Goaltending changes can be the result of poor play in net and Elliott wasn’t great Tuesday night, but the decision can also take on a dual-purpose. Give the backup playing time while also attempting to ignite a spark up and down the bench.

Send a message that it’s not the goaltender’s responsibility alone for digging this hole, but since he can’t bench all 18 skaters, bench the goalie as a result of everyone else’s poor play. 

In both losses to the Penguins and Rangers, once Hakstol decided to replace Elliott with Neuvirth, the Flyers were facing a 4-1 and 5-1 deficit, respectively, heading into the third period. The coach would have had better success creating a spark by rubbing two sticks together.

Over the course of an 82-game season, it’s important for a coach to remain consistent with his message. Over the duration of a 60-minute game, that message is tailored around the team’s performance. Moments and situations elicit when a coach should be bold with his words or more reserved.

Judging by his manner and behavior behind the bench, Hakstol’s barometer rarely tilts one way or the other, and the team has seemingly taken on the personality of its coach, especially at times when urgency is required.

“It’s got to be the same this time of year,” Hakstol said when asked about the team’s mindset following a 5-1 loss. “It’s never as bad you think and it’s never as good as you think. Address the issues, be direct about it, fix them and move forward.”

However, the Flyers are now 27th in the league when trailing after the first period and 25th when trailing after two periods. Against the Penguins and Rangers, the Flyers gave themselves no chance at forcing overtime when every single point matters right now, especially against the two teams they’re chasing in the wild-card standings.      

Hakstol can attempt to correct X's and O’s, but at some point, his decision-making and ability to put his finger on the pulse of his team will become an X-factor.