Flyers

Flyers midseason report card grades

Flyers midseason report card grades

As the Flyers (19-15-8) officially hit the midway point of the season this weekend in the midst of their five-day bye period, let’s issue midseason grades to each player on the team with at least 10 games played. And we'll grade the coach, too.

Forwards
Sean Couturier — A+
Not one person on the planet would have guessed Couturier could jump up to the top line and put up these numbers (career highs already with 23 goals and 42 points) while still maintaining his defensive responsibilities. He's the Flyers' best all-around player and my first-half MVP. Couturier’s presence and the manner in which he drives the net opens up the ice for his linemates.

Unique stat — Couturier is the first Flyer to reach the 20-goal mark in the first half of the season since Danny Briere in 2010-11.   

Claude Giroux — A
Quite the impressive turnaround for Giroux, who has overcome injuries and setbacks and has regained his speed and mobility, allowing him to be much more effective in open ice. The vision and playmaking ability has been remarkable, especially over the past 20 games. Only a handful of defensive lapses prevent Giroux from earning an A+ here. 

Unique stat — One of just eight players in franchise history to record 500 or more points before the age of 30.

Jakub Voracek — A-
Voracek is playing at the level when he earned NHL first-team honors in 2014-15. He leads the NHL in assists and he drives play no matter which line he’s on while making those around him better. However, Voracek has taken some foolish penalties, committed some untimely turnovers and, when feeling overconfident, he tries to do too much with the puck. With Voracek, you have to take the good with the bad.

Unique stat — Leads all NHL right wingers with 187 assists since 2014-15.

Scott Laughton — B+
Laughton has refined his role as a defensive-minded, checking-line center with the capabilities of chipping in offensively on occasion. He has the moments here and there when he loses coverage, but has remained committed to playing responsibly in his own end. Has played a big role on the PK unit. 

Unique stat — Laughton has the same number of even-strength goals as Voracek and Valtteri Filppula.

Michael Raffl — B
He's finally playing healthy after an injury-filled 2016-17. Raffl is terrific along the boards, strong on pucks and has been deceptively quick with his speed. He's flexible no matter who he plays with. Raffl had a slow start to the season offensively, but he has come on over his last 20 games. 

Unique stat — Raffl scored the Flyers' game-winning goal in three straight games in Western Canada in December.    

Wayne Simmonds — B-
The season started sky high for the "Wayne Train," scoring a hat trick in the season opener. And while he’s been the steady down-low power forward on the team’s power play, Simmonds has struggled at even strength. Only Travis Sanheim has a worse plus-minus. There’s a belief that he's fighting through injuries as his speed and stride appear to be just a step slower this season.

Unique stat — Second in the NHL with 82 power-play goals since 2011-12. 

Valtteri Filppula — B-
Mostly relied upon as a defensive center, Filppula is rarely caught out of position in his own end of the ice. However, he doesn’t generate much offensively and doesn’t spend much time with the puck on his stick, nor does he win his share of puck battles. Filppula has adjusted to having a number of different linemates. Though he appears to have lost a step in the first half of the season.  

Unique stat — Filppula has won over 50 percent of his faceoffs in 10 of his 11 NHL seasons.

Travis Konecny — C+    
He's played with a certain recklessness early on in the season and struggled trying to do too much offensively with linemates who don’t quite have his skill set. However, Konecny’s found structure playing alongside Couturier and Giroux on the top line in recent weeks. If he can keep his game simple and bring that aggressiveness coupled with his speed, he could have a breakout second half.

Unique stat — Konecny scored his first career game-winning goal Jan. 4 against the Islanders.

Taylor Leier — C+
He had a strong start to the season, earning a spot straight out of training camp. He's brought speed, energy and tenacity early on, but his play has fallen off over the past 15-20 games. He needs to show more of that consistently. Leier was taken off the top PK unit, paired with Laughton. He's been a healthy scratch 11 times this season and a minus-7 over his last five games.

Unique stat — Has been credited with just one giveaway in 47 career games.

Nolan Patrick — C
Patrick struggled as the Flyers' second-line center earlier in the season. He's looked very tentative at times in the offensive zone and doesn’t always utilize his speed to his advantage. However, he’s remained committed at the defensive end and has gradually shown more confidence in making plays offensively. I'd like to see him shoot more on the second PP unit.

Unique stat — Patrick leads Flyers in penalties drawn per 60 minutes at 1.35.

Jordan Weal — C
Like Konecny's, Weal’s game is starting to come around. However, aside from a strong opening 10 games to his season, Weal has struggled to find any offensive consistency, which the Flyers were expecting when they re-signed him in the offseason. He's very active in the offensive zone, but has a tendency to press when things don’t go well. He's been a healthy scratch six times this season.

Unique stat — Weal leads the Flyers with two shootout goals, converting on both attempts this season. 

Dale Weise — C- 
The Flyers were hoping Weise could carry his strong finish in 2016-17 into the start of the season, but that just hasn’t been the case. He plays with speed, but struggles mightily with a stick in his hands. He can’t seem to find consistency with linemates. Weise has been a healthy scratch eight times this season.

Unique stat — Has the second-best giveaway/takeaway ratio (plus-6) on the team.

Jori Lehtera — D 
Coming out of training camp, Lehtera didn’t exactly have a fit or a position. More suited to center, he’s had to adjust playing the wing. Two of his better games have come against his former team, the Blues. A plodder who struggles to keep up against quicker teams, and, as a result, he rarely has the puck on his stick for an extended amount of time, and has just 13 shots in 24 games.

Unique stat — Averaging one penalty for every 112 minutes at even strength, best ratio on the team. 
    
Defense
Ivan Provorov — A-
No sophomore slump here. Provorov has been exactly what the Flyers envisioned — a shutdown defenseman. He may have the occasional clunker of a game, but that’s expected when you have to contend with the opposition’s top lines and pairings every game. He's shown more jump in the offensive zone recently paired with Shayne Gostisbehere. 

Unique stat — Leads the NHL in ice time at 24:48 for players under the age of 26.

Shayne Gostisbehere — B+
Gostisbehere’s play has paralleled that of the team’s success and failures. "Ghost" started the season strong, playing better defensively in his own end, only to tail off during the 10-game winless streak. Recently, he’s played more of a solid two-way game paired with Provorov. Currently third among NHL defensemen in scoring with 32 points.

Unique stat — Gostisbehere is on pace to become the Flyers' first 60-point defenseman since Gary Galley in 1993-94.

Andrew MacDonald — B
The Flyers missed MacDonald's steadying presence after he took a puck to the leg back in October and subsequently missed the next 15 games. He does the little things that don’t show up on a scoresheet, but doesn’t do one thing exceptionally well. He's shown versatility playing with Provorov or Robert Hagg, but he's not the best skater and occasionally struggles to stay on his feet.

Unique stat — The Flyers are 16-8-3 with MacDonald in the lineup.

Robert Hagg — B
Hagg has been the pleasant surprise of the rookies coming out of training camp. He doesn’t try to do too much or overextend himself in the defensive end of the ice. A physical presence who uses his size to his advantage. Needs to be better with his first pass out of the zone. May not have the best advanced metrics, but he’s second to Couturier with a plus-12 rating.

Unique stat — Could be the first rookie since Cal Clutterbuck in 2008-09 to lead the NHL in hits. Currently second behind Anaheim’s Chris Wagner. 

Brandon Manning — B-
Manning has been opportunistic on the offensive end, scoring a career-high four goals in 27 games. He knows his role and his limitations and doesn’t try to do too much. Defensively, he’s worked well partnered with Radko Gudas, but at times, his physical, aggressive side catches him out of position. Manning has played well in the five games back recently from a hand injury.

Unique stat — Manning earned his first career power-play point in 169 career games with an assist Jan. 4 against the Islanders.

Radko Gudas — C+
Gudas’ first half was highlighted by a 10-game suspension he received as a result of a vicious crosscheck to the neck of Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault in November. Like MacDonald, Gudas has been a steady presence as part of the Flyers' third pairing. However, Gudas hasn’t been the physical force like we’ve seen in past seasons and can be caught chasing the puck in his own end.

Unique stat — Gudas is averaging over two shots a game for the first time in his career, but has yet to score a goal this season.

Travis Sanheim — C
As comfortable as Sanheim looks in the offensive end of the ice, he struggles just as much in the defensive zone, losing coverage and playing his way out of position. From that aspect, he’s still adjusting to the speed at which decisions have to be made at the NHL level. I'd like to see Sanheim use more of his skating ability to make plays from zone to zone. He's been a healthy scratch the past five games and has a team-worst minus-9 rating. 

Unique stat  Sanheim has been a plus player just once in his last 16 games played.  

Goaltending
Brian Elliott — B+
Elliott has seized the No. 1  goaltending job from Neuvirth with his consistent play and Neuvirth's inability to remain healthy. He's given the Flyers a chance in almost every game he's played. He plays deep in his net and doesn’t challenge shooters too much. Positionally, Elliott is almost always square to the puck and shows good rebound control. If he sees it, typically he stops it. He came through in a big way during a string of 16 consecutive starts. Numbers don’t reflect his solid season. 

Unique stat  On pace for 66 starts, which would shatter his previous high of 48 set back in 2009-10 with the Ottawa Senators.

Michal Neuvirth — B
He started the season with three exceptional starts. Neuvirth is a hard-working athletic goaltender, but not quite as positionally-sound as Elliott. He can be leaky, especially on sealing the near post, and occasionally struggles with sharp-angle shots. He's shown yet again to be injury-prone as he recently missed nine games with a lower-body injury.

Unique stat  Leads the NHL with a .950 save percentage at even strength for goalies with 10 or more games played.

Coaching
Dave Hakstol — B-
The season could have gone off the rails, but Hakstol didn’t panic, especially during the 10-game winless streak as the team continued to play hard throughout and he maintained the belief the team wasn’t playing that poorly. He could have been quicker in making adjustments, whether that was breaking up the top line or employing more of a defensive 1-2-2 system while limiting the minutes of his young players. I'd like to see more emotion at times, but he still has his team positioned for a playoff run. 

Unique stat  Hakstol’s next victory will be his 100th career NHL win.

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.