Bye comes at wrong time for Flyers

Bye comes at wrong time for Flyers


Brian Elliott is headed to the Bahamas for vacation.

Sean Couturier is making his way back to Quebec to work on a home he’s having built.

Brandon Manning and Valtteri Filppula will be dogsledding in Vermont.

And Claude Giroux is boarding a plane to Ottawa to see family and friends.

The Flyers' five-day bye week is here and they can relax a little bit easier riding a three-game winning streak and having played some of their best hockey recently with a record of 11-4-1 since Dec. 4.

“I think anytime you have that much time off you want to feel good about your game,” defenseman Brandon Manning said. “I think something we need to focus on is staying even keel.”

“We’re very close to the playoffs right now,” Jakub Voracek said. “I was reading some articles and listening to some people that this team should get blown up during that 10-game losing streak. We didn’t. We stayed patient. We’re in the playoff right now, so that’s good for us.”

The 4-1 win Sunday over the Sabres was vitally important for backup Michal Neuvirth, who saw action for just the fifth time since his last victory Nov. 2 against the Blues (see observations).

“It’s a huge win for me,” said Neuvirth, who was on his way to board a flight for Mexico. “I haven’t been feeling good about myself lately. It’s frustrating when you get injured and you can’t help your teammates, but I feel good about myself right now. Kind of a shame that we’ve won three in a row and leaving for the break, but it’s the schedule.”

The Flyers leaned on Neuvirth heavily in the first six minutes of the game, as they were forced to kill off Voracek’s hooking penalty and then Wayne Simmonds' slashing call just 47 seconds after successfully killing off the Sabres' first power play.

Neuvirth’s signature stop was a highlight reel glove save on Sabres forward Sam Reinhart on Buffalo’s second power-play opportunity. Overall, Neuvirth turned aside 30 of the Sabres' 31 shots on net.

“I had a good warmup and I was feeling good all morning,” Neuvirth said. “Playing the third period against Pittsburgh helped me a lot, so I was more relaxed coming into the game.”

“I think it’s a great way for him to go into the break and to come back into our lineup,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s been a long time since he’s had the opportunity to start a game. For him to come in, and I think back to that (Reinhart) save he had in the first period. I thought that was a great way to say I’m ready to step in and help this team.”

After Buffalo beat Neuvirth in the opening minutes of the second period for a 1-0 lead, the Flyers had an immediate response less than two minutes later. Shayne Gostisbehere forced a neutral zone turnover and then converted his ninth goal of the season in the same sequence to tie the game.

 “It’s kind of a risky play there coming down and I backed off,” said Gostisbehere, who has 32 points in 39 games. “Thankfully, he pushed it. I was trying to push it to him and I just followed up the play.”

Minutes later, Couturier answered with a power-play goal for a 2-1 lead and the Flyers never looked back.

Impressively, the Flyers also improved to 4-2-2 in the second game of a back-to-back, and with a pair of victories in a span of 24 hours, the Flyers temporarily pushed their way past the Islanders and the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, where 10 points separate the eight divisional teams.

When the Flyers collectively return from their bye week destinations, they’ll be facing a crucial stretch of hockey with six of their next nine games coming against divisional opponents with the All-Star break sandwiched in between.

“I don’t know if we need any recovery time,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got it now in front of us, so we’ll try and take advantage of it and come back. We’ve gone one real hard work day and right back into games. That’s going to be a real hard turnaround.“

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

One Czech is out, and another has checked in.

Petr Mrazek has endured a rather eventful past 24 hours. Following news of the trade to the Flyers, Mrazek didn’t go to bed until 2 a.m. and was awake at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Philadelphia that had him at the Wells Fargo Center in time for the Flyers' morning skate.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Mrazek said Tuesday. “I got a call at 9:30 from (Red Wings GM) Ken Holland and then Ron Hextall. Yeah, I’m excited. A couple of months ago I had a good conversation with Ken Holland about it and he said if he had a good opportunity to do it, he was going to try and move me. I was really happy.”

With Michal Neuvirth now expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a lower-body injury, and Brian Elliott scheduled to be out until late March recovering from core muscle surgery, Mrazek will now be the Flyers' go-to guy in net. 

“Petr’s a proven guy,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That goes without saying. We’ve said all along we have confidence in Alex (Lyon) and he’s starting tonight, but Hexy alluded to it, going out and getting an established veteran NHL goaltender and that’s what Petr is.”

Mrazek’s game has definitely reached another level since the calendar flipped to 2018. The 26-year-old netminder has a 5-3-2 record to go along with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 save percentage since Jan. 1. 

“I changed a couple of things during the summer,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t play much the first half of the season and it was tough for me to find my game playing once in two weeks or once in three weeks. It was tough but I worked hard during that stretch on the ice to try and improve my game, and I think over the past few months it was going in the right direction.”

Mrazek will also find comfort in a clubhouse with three Czech teammates: forward Jakub Voracek, defenseman Radko Gudas and Neuvirth. They’ve played together at the IIHF World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey.

“I won’t be surprised if we signed Jags after the Olympics,” Voracek said jokingly regarding Jaromir Jagr. “Obviously, something needs to be done regarding Neuvy and Elliott. Petr’s a great goalie and I think we’re having a great season this year. Obviously, he’s very competitive. As long as we find a way to win with him in the net, that’s all that matters.”  

“They’re different style goalies for sure,” Gudas said of the differences between Mrazek and Neuvirth. “He’s a great goaltender who challenges a lot. That’s a good thing for us to have someone who cares as much as he does. I think our goalies were doing a really good job of keeping our defense intact and keeping them honest, and I think Petr is going to do the same thing, especially our young D corps, and help them out.” 

In Bloom
Many expected Oskar Lindblom to make the Flyers out of training camp. Few expected the call-up to come during the heat of a playoff race. 

Regardless, the 21-year-old Swede will make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Canadiens and should see an extended look into March following an upper-body injury to Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers' power forward is expected to miss the next two to three weeks of action.

“I’ve grown as a person and as a player,” Lindblom said. “I just felt I had to go down there (Lehigh Valley) and just do my thing and get better every day.”

“It’s so valuable going into the American League and have the opportunity to gain that experience, especially for Oskar being his first year in the smaller NHL rink,” Hakstol said. “He’s grown as a player. I think his confidence has always been good.”

Certainly, confidence won’t be lacking as Lindblom was lighting it up with the Phantoms, scoring a goal in three straight games, along with another scoring streak that included five goals in a six-game span.  

“I don’t know why I’ve been that way this season,” Lindblom said. “But it’s good when it comes and I need to keep riding on that wave a little bit.”

“He’s got a great shot, great hockey sense,” Claude Giroux said. “He’s been playing some great hockey with the Phantoms, and he’s a great guy in the locker room, too, so I’m pretty excited to see him on the ice since I haven’t seen him in awhile.”

Lindblom will be on the Flyers' third line along with center Scott Laughton and winger Michael Raffl.

“He’s a smart player, a really heady player,” Laughton said. “I’m excited to play with him. I haven’t talked to him too much. I’m sure we’ll talk more before the game with what me and Raffl like to do and we’ll go out there and continue to push forward and look for him in the slot where he likes to score goals.”

Projected lines and pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Jakub Voracek-Nolan Patrick-Jordan Weal

Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere

Andrew MacDonald-Robert Hagg

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Alex Lyon

Petr Mrazek

2 more key Flyers out with injuries

2 more key Flyers out with injuries

There's more bad news on the injury front for the Flyers.

Winger Wayne Simmonds (upper-body injury) will miss two to three weeks and goalie Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury) will be out the next four to five weeks.

With Monday's news that the Flyers had recalled surging forward prospect Oskar Lindblom (see story), a corresponding move seemed imminent. With Simmonds out, Jordan Weal took his place on Nolan Patrick's line, which had been clicking lately, during Tuesday's morning skate. It appears Lindblom will see his first NHL action on Scott Laughton's line along with Michael Raffl.

With Brian Elliott likely out for the rest of the regular season and Neuvirth's status, the Flyers' trade for goalie Petr Mrazek makes obvious sense (see story). Mrazek was on the ice for morning skate and will be available tonight vs. the Canadiens (7 p.m./NBCSP), according to GM Ron Hextall, who was a guest on 97.5 The Fanatic's midday show.