Flyers

End to End: Which Flyer has been most disappointing during skid?

End to End: Which Flyer has been most disappointing during skid?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Which Flyer has been most disappointing during skid?

Dougherty
There is plenty of blame to go around. It's the holiday season. We should spread the love. So let's. There isn't one player responsible for where the Flyers stand today. It would be unfair to single out one player as the root of the team's problems. It would also be unfair to blame the head coach for the players not performing up to their abilities. It also would be unfair to not place some blame on the head coach. It's Dave Hakstol's responsibility to get the most out of his players, and he's not doing that.

Ultimately, the fault lies with the players. This Flyers team has more talent than it has in the past few seasons. I still believe that. I don't think it's a talent issue, and general manager Ron Hextall said as much last week when the downfall was at four games.

"We have enough talent," Hextall said. "It's not a talent issue, it's an execution issue."

After the losing streak hit nine Tuesday night, Hextall spewed GM-speak. He said all the things he had to say, and that certainly didn't sit well with the fanbase. It didn't sound like he was at his breaking point, which means, it doesn't appear any major changes are coming. The "Fire Hakstol" chants that filled the Wells Fargo Center will get only louder as the rightfully disgruntled fanbase grows more irritated. Hextall, though, doesn't sound like a GM ready to fire his coach. Instead, he believes in his players.

So which one player am I most disappointed in over the Flyers' current nine-game losing streak that has no end in sight? For me, it's Wayne Simmonds, who has one goal in his last 17 games. Simmonds jumped out to a scorching start this season. He scored a hat trick in the season opener and had three game-winning goals in the Flyers' first five games.

Simmonds has been one of the best Flyers forwards since he's been in Philadelphia, and he's doing so on an extremely team-friendly contract. He's a 30-goal scorer. He makes his living on the power play. He's a physical player, plays with passion and heart. But over the last month, he hasn't been the same. He suffered a lower-body injury in the third period Oct. 17 against the Florida Panthers, and while he hasn't missed a game since, he certainly hasn't looked like the same player.

Perhaps Simmonds is more hurt than he's letting on. Perhaps, it's the warrior mentality hockey players have — that if you can walk, you will play. It's one thing to play through injury if it doesn't affect your play. It's another thing to play through injury and have a negative impact on your team. If Simmonds isn't injured, then it's a bigger problem.

We've talked about the Flyers' lack of secondary scoring and Simmonds has been a culprit in that department. The Flyers need him to play better, and they need it soon. There isn't one player responsible for the hole this team has dug itself. It's truly a collaborative effort, but Simmonds has been the most disappointing.

Hall
The players are taking the blame for the Flyers' current state of affairs.

So now is a decent time to look at which of those players have underperformed most, resulting in this early-season drama.

And, really, no one guy jumps out as the clear-cut culprit for the Flyers' mess. This is on a lot of the players, not just a few.

For me, however, I've got to go with Jordan Weal, especially because I had such high expectations for him entering his first full NHL season. I loved what I saw last season when he finally got his chance, he works his tail off and at times during training camp and preseason, he looked like the Flyers' quickest and most dangerous player.

In a prominent role with some talent around him, I foresaw a big jump from Weal to provide the secondary scoring the Flyers always seem to need.

It just hasn't happened … yet.

Weal has two points (one goal, one assist) in his last 15 games. Overall, he has six points (two goals, four assists) in 20 games and was a healthy scratch the Flyers' past two defeats. For some context, defenseman Brandon Manning, in the same number of games, has scored more goals with three and has matched the point total of six.

There's no reason why Weal can't rediscover his scoring touch.

But he's now in a fight to regain his role and trust from the coaches.

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

usa-shayne-gostisbehere-flyers-leafs.jpg
USA Today Images

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

We are deep into the season of giving and the Flyers just keep giving fans exactly what they want: wins.

OK, sorry for that seasonal yet corny intro, but the fact remains the Flyers are on a tear right now, and it continued this past week with three more sound wins to push their winning streak past a handful to six games.

This week got off to the right skate with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory Tuesday over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The good vibes kept coming Thursday with a grind-it-out 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. And the week ended on the highest of notes Saturday night with a 2-1 OT win at home over the Dallas Stars.

Well, well, well … they’re back, aren’t they?

And before the Flyers push for seven straight Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, let’s look back at the successful week that was, shall we?

• The Flyers' three wins this week were good, solid wins over the Leafs, Sabres, and Stars. When you’re still trying to claw out of the hole a 10-game losing streak put you in, all wins are good, solid wins right now. But these three Flyers wins this past week weren’t of the most exciting variety. Let’s be blunt, all three wins were mostly boring.

Tuesday’s triumph over the Leafs was sleepy until Travis Konecny’s tying seeing-eye shot in the third and then Claude Giroux’s fantastic through-the-legs pass that led to Sean Couturier’s wicked wrister of a winner. Thursday’s win over Buffalo was a snoozer for the better part of 50 minutes. And Saturday’s victory over Dallas, while chippy, didn’t have much action to it outside of Shayne Gostisbehere’s heroics.

But the Flyers aren’t caring about being exciting and neither should you right now because it’s working for them. Jake Voracek’s quote after the Buffalo game says it all.

“I thought this was a boring game,” Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Yes, they can play better. But two points are two points right now, no matter how boring. Simply put, boring is working.

• So why the sudden turnaround for the Flyers? There’s a multitude of reasons — timely scoring, better defensive efforts and Brian Elliott playing like a rock in net, just to name a few.

But one major reason: discipline. In the three games this past week, the Flyers took three penalties total, on in each game. Dating back to Dec. 4 when this six-game win streak began in Calgary, the Flyers have faced just nine power plays against. Compare that to the 22 power plays the Flyers have had in the same span.

That’s a gigantic boost for a team that, as of Sunday morning, is still 29th in the league with a 76.7 percent success rate on the PK.

How do you cure something that ails you? Don’t put yourself in the situation.

• When Gostisbehere is at his very best, he can just dominate a game with his elusiveness, booming shot and dynamic offensive ability. And that’s just what we saw Saturday night against the Stars as Gostisbehere was a dangerous entity all over the ice and controlled the game when the puck was on his stick.

He brought the Wells Fargo Center to life with his second-period power-play goal that saw him dive a lift a rebound past Dallas goalie Ben Bishop. And then he unglued the place with his game-winner in OT on the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“Ghost” is such a key piece for the Flyers as so much of the offense tends to be filtered through him when he’s on the ice, and especially so on the power play. We saw what happened when he wasn’t playing up to his abilities during the 10-game skid. But the Gostisbehere we saw against the Stars is just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. And it shows just why.

• Good for Travis Sanheim getting the monkey off his back and potting the first goal of his NHL career during Thursday’s victory over Buffalo.     

During the first period, Sanheim took a feed from Dale Weise and deposited home a one-timer from the circle to knot the game at 1-1. Sure, he got a little help from Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who lounged wildly at the shot. But still, Sanheim made no mistake as he went top shelf with it. And he got the puck and the Ric Flair robe after the game to boot.

It’s just a slight taste of what the 21-year-old offensive-minded blueliner can do. In three junior seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Sanheim scored 35 goals. He potted 10 in 76 games with the Phantoms last season.

He can score, and as he gets more and more comfortable at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see him light the lamp more often.

• Here’s your obvious observation of the week: What a difference two weeks makes.

When the Flyers were shut out by the Bruins 15 days ago, morale was as low as it had been in a long time. Nothing was going right. No breaks went their way. No bounces even came close. The list of misfortunes could go on and on and on. On the morning of Dec. 3, the Flyers had just 22 points, fifth-fewest in the league. They were nine points behind the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here we are two weeks and change (and six wins in a row) later and the Flyers have 35 points and are just four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East.

Hope you guys like roller coasters.

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Los Angeles (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday vs. Detroit (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Friday at. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday at Columbus (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

BOX SCORE

The Flyers developed a Muhammad Ali-type mentality Saturday night.

It was hockey’s version of the rope-a-dope, where the Flyers took the Dallas Stars' best punches early on before going the distance, eventually wearing down an opponent that was playing their third game in four nights.

The end result was a 2-1 Flyers victory, extending their season-high winning streak to six games (see observations).

In fact, the Stars attempted to set the tone on the opening shift when Stars captain Jamie Benn tried to rattle the cage of Claude Giroux. They tangled on their way back to the bench with Benn extending his glove underneath Giroux’s chin.

“We knew they were going to have a good push at the start of the game,” Brian Elliott, who has started all six games of the winning streak, said. "We knew they wouldn't be able to keep it up playing a back-to-back. I thought our guys did a really good job of sticking to that game plan and staying patiently persistent."

The Flyers also knew the Stars would come out of the gates flying after a disappointing 5-2 loss at New Jersey the night before.

“We’ve been on the other side of it,” Giroux said. “Playing a back-to-back, it’s not easy, especially when you’re traveling and we really wanted to take advantage of that. Other teams took advantage of us before.”

The Flyers started to turn up the heat in the opening minutes of the second period when they controlled play with extended shifts in the Stars' end of the ice, coupled with a pair of breakaway opportunities from Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek.

“That (second) period was the one for me where we pushed the game in our direction,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was during the second period we were able to use everybody. Everybody was going and that allowed us to raise the pace of play a little bit.”

The Flyers were also propelled by their power play that finished the game 2 for 6 and a whopping 12 shots on net. After scoring on a rebound that deflected off the backboards, Shayne Gostisbehere landed the knockout blow with 1:10 remaining in overtime when "Ghost" blasted an overtime slapper during the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“A lot of that power play was going rover," Gostisbehere, who scored his fifth career overtime winner, said, "but you could tell we were feeding off each other, finding lanes and we were just relentless and a goal at the end just showed we weren't giving up there."

Stars coach and former Flyers bench boss Ken Hitchcock was attempting, for the second time, to become the third coach in NHL history to win 800 career games. Much of the reason he didn’t achieve the milestone was the careless penalties of forward Alexander Radulov, which led to both of the Flyers' power-play goals.

“It’s not team discipline, it’s individual,” Hitchcock said. “It’s disappointing to fight like we fought and battle. Come off, playing hard like this off a back-to-back, it’s really disappointing to take those two penalties at the end of the game.”

The Flyers also snapped a seven-game losing streak in contests that extended after regulation. The Flyers had dropped five of those in overtime and another two in the shootout.

“I thought we had a really positive attitude,” Elliott said. “I think everyone thought we would go out there for overtime and win. I didn’t think anybody had any doubts or anything. That’s all you can ask for going into those situations.” 

“I liked the way we approached overtime,” Hakstol said. “I didn’t think we pressed or pushed anything. We weren’t taking any long shifts, no high risk plays. I thought guys just went out and did their job and did it the right way.”

Right now, it’s a Flyers team that may not be floating like a butterfly, but they can certainly sting like a bee.