Flyers

Despite injuries, Flyers put together 'unbelievable' effort in shutout

Despite injuries, Flyers put together 'unbelievable' effort in shutout

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS — The Flyers showed the St. Louis Blues what a true blue-collar effort really looks like.

Behind Michal Neuvirth’s 33 saves and a defense with four first-year NHL players with 272 games played combined among its unit, the Flyers kept the high-powered Blues out of the net with a 2-0 win on Thursday (see observations). It marked the first time the Blues have been shut out this season.

“Unbelievable. That’s one of the hardest-working teams in the league over there,” Neuvirth said. “They (defensemen) stepped up. They needed to step up and that’s what they did. I was impressed.”

If the Flyers didn’t already have enough going against them with all the injuries piling up, the team was also playing its fifth games in eight days. That stretch included four out of those five on the road with Thursday night’s game being the second half of a back-to-back set.

“The guys just worked hard. That’s just what it comes down to,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “They worked their asses off in the [defensive] zone tonight. The number of blocked shots, starting with Provy (Ivan Provorov), but throughout the group, that’s what it takes on nights like this.”

Defenseman Provorov came into Thursday’s game having logged some monster minutes over the Flyers’ past three games, including a career-high 29:51 the night before in Chicago. Yet Provorov put himself on the line Thursday in St. Louis as he matched a team record with 10 blocked shots (see highlights).

“The other team had a real shooting mentality, especially on the power play, so we tried to get into the shooting lanes and block some shots and help Neuvirth out,” Provorov said. “I think that’s what we did tonight.”

The Blues, on the other hand, had every reason to feel confident and comfortable. St. Louis owned the NHL’s best record at 10-2-1 and were well-rested with three days off between games.

“There were a couple of shifts where I thought we got a little bit slow in defending, but for the most part, whenever they did get it moving, we got it out of our down-low coverage,” Hakstol said. “We did a good job of getting in some lanes and then working and moving to find our next point of pressure.”

“A lot of guys are putting their bodies on the line, sacrificing their body, blocking shots,” Sean Couturier said. “You look at a guy like (Robert) Hagg, he’s not the most flashy guy. He’s pretty solid doing all the little details that make a difference to win a game, even Sanny (Travis Sanheim), he’s getting better every game, and the young guys are just getting better and better.”

The Flyers got the blocks and even a few of the breaks on Thursday night. Following a scoreless first period, the Flyers scored the game’s first goal when Brandon Manning ripped a slap shot that Blues goaltender Jake Allen never saw with Jakub Voracek in his face. 

Initially, the referees waved off the goal on account of goalie interference. However, after Hakstol challenged and the play was reviewed, officials reversed the decision when it was determined that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo pushed Voracek into Allen’s way.

“I felt something, but I was pretty confident I was out of the crease,” Voracek said. “After I saw the replay, I thought it could go either way. You never know lately how the call is going to go. I’m glad they allowed [the goal].”

The Flyers’ reversal of fortunes came exactly a week after a Manning goal was taken off the board in a 5-4 loss in Ottawa, which would have been the difference in earning a point.

“A little bit of good karma I think,” Manning said. “As soon as I saw it I was hoping that Hak would challenge. There wasn’t much there. It all works out in the end. Fortunately for us, it was a big one tonight.”

Fourteen games into the season, the injury-riddled Flyers have already been forced to utilize nine different defensemen, which is one more than what they needed in their first 80 games last season.

“Everybody’s here for a reason. Everybody can play,” Provorov said. “It sucks that Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere), Mac (Andrew MacDonald) and Gudy (Radko Gudas) got injured, but the guys that came in did a really good job. I think we played a really solid game.”

Notes and tidbits
• In their 50-plus years of existence, the Flyers have never put a team on the ice with such little experience on the back end. The Flyers played four defensemen in the game that had 15 or fewer games of NHL experience prior to the game — Hagg (14), Sanheim (10), Mark Alt (3) and Will O’Neill, who made his NHL debut.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the next closest such game was on Nov. 5, 1981, when the Flyers suited up four defensemen with under 40 games of experience — Fred Arthur (11), Reid Bailey (25), Glen Cochrane (39) and Steve Smith (NHL debut).

• The last NHL team to play with four defensemen each under 15 games of experience was the Colorado Avalanche, who did so while suffering a 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Nov. 9, 2010.

• Provorov equaled MacDonald’s record of 10 blocked shots in this game. MacDonald set the record in a game at Tampa on March 11, 2016. The NHL has only started recording blocked shots since 1997. 

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Penguins have the Flyers on the canvas in a headlock.

The faces of the guys who wear orange and black are turning purple, and unless they put up a courageous fight as they did in Game 2, they will tap out of this best-of-seven series after just five games (see story).

General manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media for the first time since the series started and believes the Flyers have displayed a lack of mental fortitude through the first four games.

“A lot of it is mentality,” Hextall said. “We need to be stronger if a bump goes the other way. We need to be stronger and bounce back and create energy going back our way. The playoffs are a series of momentum (swings) — within a period and within a game. We need to do a better job of bringing the momentum back our way."

So where exactly does that start? The return of Sean Couturier would help considerably.

After sitting out Game 4’s 5-0 loss, the Selke Trophy finalist hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 5 after skating Wednesday and Thursday on his own. Hextall said Couturier would travel to Pittsburgh and nothing more than that.

“I’m feeling better every day, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Couturier said. “It’s really on me to see how I feel every day and hopefully, it keeps getting better. It’s really up to my body to see how it keeps progressing.”

Dave Hakstol switched up his lines once again Thursday, most notably installing Valtteri Filppula onto the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and breaking up the top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Robert Hagg is also expected to make his series debut, playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as fellow rookie Travis Sanheim will serve as the healthy scratch.

“About time,” Hagg said. “I’m looking forward to it tomorrow. Hopefully, I can bring something to the team, some energy. I think it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go in and show what I can bring to the team.”

“He brings a different element than a couple of guys in the lineup if we’re so inclined to make that change,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t generated very much over the last five periods, but at the same time, we’ve given up quite a bit in some of the harder areas.”

Toward the end of Thursday’s 45-minute practice, Giroux gathered his teammates around and delivered a speech he hopes can galvanize the Flyers for Game 5 and bring the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

“I think it’s believing in ourselves," Giroux said. "All year we’ve done that, and we’ve talked about it before. You lose 10 in a row and find a way to make the playoffs. Tomorrow’s a big game for us, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

Quick hits
• Speaking on the collision with Radko Gudas, Couturier said, "We've done this drill all year. It was bad timing and a fluke accident. There's no one to really blame, and I should have maybe had my head up there."

• Hextall believes Couturier should be the Selke Trophy frontrunner based on his outstanding 2017-18 season.

"I think he should win it," Hextall said. "I know those other players fairly well, and yes, I watch Coots on a daily basis, but the two-way game that he brings to our team is in my mind, the best in the league this year."

• Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist will miss his second straight game.

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.