Flyers

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Home streak vs. Chicago continues

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Home streak vs. Chicago continues

BOX SCORE

The streak lives on.

The Flyers continued their dominance over the Blackhawks by beating Chicago, 3-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. The victory was their 14th consecutive regular-season home win in the series. The Blackhawks' last non-playoff win in Philadelphia came exactly 21 years ago to the day: Nov. 9, 1996.

The Flyers’ top line did the damage with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier all scoring goals.

Brian Elliott won for the sixth time in 10 starts as he stopped 38 of 39 shots.

• Much of the final 35 minutes were played in the Flyers’ end following the 3-0 lead. The ‘Hawks outshot the Flyers, 26-15, while applying constant pressure. Chicago just couldn’t rattle Elliott, who turned in a similar effort to Corey Crawford when these two teams played in Chicago eight days ago. 

• The Flyers were forced to kill off 1:44 of a 5-on-3 when Radko Gudas went off for tripping and then Ivan Provorov lofted the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Flyers successfully killed off the two-man advantage with Chicago’s best scoring chance coming on a Duncan Keith wrist shot between the circles when Keith shot over the net. The Blackhawks were able to manage just one shot on net during that stretch. 

• Impressively, defenseman Robert Hagg was on the ice for 1:40 of that penalty kill. I couldn’t care less what Hagg’s Corsi numbers look like, he’s been an invaluable part of this defense.

• Elliott doesn’t usually make the highlight-reel save, but he was locked in against the Blackhawks. Elliott made a series of blocker saves in the opening period, and then had a gem when he robbed Brandon Saad with the glove. In the third, he denied Patrick Kane from close range and Saad once again. Elliott cut down just about every angle and his positioning was square to nearly every puck.  

• Matching top line against top line, the Flyers just abused the Blackhawks’ trio of Saad, Jonathan Toews and Kane — a line coach Joel Quenneville assembled prior to this game. The Flyers’ No. 1 line extended the lead to 3-0 on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play as Voracek found Giroux, who sent a backhand pass to Couturier as he came down the slot. The score was Couturier’s 10th of the season, which he’s never done before Jan. 1.

• Brandon Manning had a very solid opening 40 minutes to start this game. Manning tied up Saad to break up a Blackhawks’ opportunity down low. He was very active all over the ice. He separated his man from the puck and was the high man for the Flyers with 14:49 of ice time after two periods.

• Early in the second period, Travis Sanheim displayed his offensive awareness when he threaded another solid pass. This one went to Dale Weise, who clanked his shot off the post. Sanheim very easily could have had a pair of assists in this game.

• The Flyers looked very much like a team coming off a four-day layoff in the first four minutes of the game. Their breakouts were out of sync and coupled with some atrocious passing that forced them to regroup in their own end on a couple of occasions. 

• The Flyers jumped on the board first when Voracek and Couturier drew four Blackhawks defenders to the right side of the ice. Voracek fired a perfect pass to Giroux, who ripped off his patented one-timer from just outside the right circle that beat Crawford. Giroux was left wide open as Kane couldn’t make it on the backcheck.

• The Flyers had the Blackhawks’ defense completely spread out on their second goal. Giroux grabbed the puck out of the air and then fed Shayne Gostisbehere, who skated down low and had a four-lane highway of a passing lane. He fed Voracek, who blasted a one-timer of his own as the Flyers became just the second team this season to score two goals on Crawford in the opening period. 

• For “Ghost,” he became the fastest Flyers defenseman to score 100 points as he reached the mark in his first 155 career games. 

“It’s awesome, but of course I couldn’t do this without my teammates,” Gostisbehere said during the first intermission. “Just to do it with an organization like Philadelphia, it’s unbelievable. It’s a team with a lot of history, and again, I can’t thank my teammates and support staff enough.”

• Gostisbehere also had a terrific lead pass to Travis Konecny, who skated in behind the Blackhawks’ defense and deked Crawford for a wide-open net, but his backhand shot went wide.

• Early on, Gostisbehere held onto the puck a little too long, which produced a turnover and an early chance for Lance Bouma. That’s the second straight game when “Ghost” has committed a turnover in his own end. He had a similar play against the Avalanche when Gostisbehere had it stripped to lead to a Nail Yakupov third-period goal.

• Sanheim played a solid 6:21 in the first period with one memorable shift that showcased his potential. Sanheim broke up a potential pass at the defensive end in front of Elliott and then pushed the rush. Sanheim threaded a perfectly-timed pass to Valtteri Filppula just to the left of Crawford that could have been put in for a score.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise        
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Matt Read (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins takes down Islanders

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USA Today Images

Ex-Flyer Nick Cousins takes down Islanders

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet praised center Nick Cousins after, not just for his game-winning goal against the New York Islanders but also for his improved overall play.

Cousins scored his second goal of the game 2:21 into overtime to lift the Coyotes to a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Monday night.

"I've got to give him a lot of credit," Tocchet said. "He's done really well. I've sat him out this year. He's worked on his game. He's always got a smile on his face coming to work to practice. He's worked on his game and he's starting to reap the benefits."

Cousins added an assist and the Coyotes ran their points streak to five games, a season high. Arizona has points from seven of eight games, with six of those going to overtime. Brendan Perlini scored for the third time in three games and Antti Raanta stopped 32 shots (see full recap).

Wings blank Devils before welcoming Flyers
NEWARK, N.J. -- Petr Mrazek wants more playing time and Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is probably going to give it to him.

Mrazek had 37 saves in posting his second straight shutout and third of the season as the Red Wings played one of their best games of the season in beating the slumping New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Monday night.

Mrazek has stopped 64 shots in shutting out the Blackhawks and Devils in his last two starts. He now has three shutouts in 14 games with a 5-5-1 record.

"I'm trying to get some confidence every game I play, every save I make," Mrazek said. "I haven't played a lot of minutes, so every game I am trying,” (see full recap).

Avalanche beat Leafs for 10th straight win
TORONTO -- Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier heard the Bronx cheers from the Air Canada Centre crowd on Monday night.

He remembers listening to Toronto fans giving him the same sort of hard time when he was a member of the Maple Leafs as they struggled through the 2015-16 season.

"It's not as bad when you are the away team," he said.

Bernier made 29 saves in his first start at the ACC since Toronto traded him in July 2016, Blake Comeau scored the go-ahead goal with 7:43 left and the Avalanche extended their winning streak to 10 games with a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs (see full recap).

Vasilevskiy leads Lightning past Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Andrei Vasilevskiy was terrific, Chris Kunitz made a clutch play and Tampa Bay's penalty killers had a big night.

The Lightning followed a familiar formula back to the top of the NHL.

Vasilevskiy made 40 saves in his league-best seventh shutout and Kunitz scored a short-handed goal in the second period, leading Tampa Bay to a 2-0 victory over the sliding Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.

Yanni Gourde also scored as Tampa Bay stopped a season-high three-game skid and leapfrogged idle Vegas for the best record in the NHL. The Lightning, who lost to Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, improved to 11-0-2 against the Blackhawks in their last 13 regular-season meetings (see full recap).

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

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AP Images

Flyers have a Travis Sanheim dilemma

Defenseman and prized prospect Travis Sanheim will start playing some big minutes again.

It just won’t be with the Flyers right now.

On Monday, Sanheim was reassigned to AHL Lehigh Valley as the front office also recalled Mark Alt to take Sanheim’s spot on the active roster.

Why?

Trust and development.

With the Flyers playing some of their best hockey of the season with wins in eight of their last nine games and the increased importance of gaining necessary points in an air-tight division (as of Monday morning, the Flyers held the East's first wild-card spot with 54 points, one behind Columbus for third in the Metro, two behind New Jersey for second and just seven behind first-place Washington), Sanheim had been relegated as the seventh defenseman and had served as a healthy scratch in eight of those nine games.

“He comes out of the lineup and the team plays well,” general manager Ron Hextall said recently of the 21-year-old blueliner. “Like most teams when things are going well, you really don’t want to change too much. If you look at the whole year with Travis, I think he’s played well with us. He’s had his moments, but he’s a young player and that’s going to happen. I don’t like him sitting and coaches don’t like him sitting, and I’m sure he doesn’t like sitting.”

Prior to the Devils/Capitals weekend series the Flyers swept, head coach Dave Hakstol was asked about the possibility of utilizing an 11 forward-seven defensemen combination as Tyrell Goulbourne has been used sparingly since his call-up. But Hakstol made it clear he wasn’t going to make concessions to accommodate one player.

“We’re not going to do anything to get anybody in the lineup at this point in time,” Hakstol said. “It can’t solely be about that. If that’s a scenario that’s best for our team, then we’ll consider it. What’s the right combination for our team to win a game that day?”

Coming out of the Christmas break, Hakstol started shortening the length of Sanheim’s leash. The rookie played 14:42 of the Panthers game (a 3-2 loss) on Dec. 28. Brandon Manning was fully healed and ready to return from a hand injury the next night in Tampa, a 5-3 decision the Flyers took from the league-best Lightning.

After missing the next five games, Sanheim received another chance with the Flyers playing their first game against the Devils out of the bye week on Jan. 13. All it took was one play in which Sanheim stepped up to check his man along the boards. He subsequently lost his stick, and by the time he grabbed it, the Devils converted an easy goal to take a 1-0 lead.

That came during Sanheim’s second shift as he finished the game playing a season-low 6:02, including just one 18-second shift in the third period.

“They’ve got to earn the trust of their teammates and the coaches, and sometimes that’s a process,” Hextall said. “Some of what Travis is going through is good for Travis. There’s a lot you learn out there. Part of it is the life lesson of you have to earn things. Things aren’t going to be handed to you. Just because you’re a first-round pick or a highly paid guy, you have to learn things. You don’t come out of college and become a CEO. You have to pay your dues, and you have to earn what you’re going to get.”

Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere learned those life lessons the hard way last season as both young players were pulled out of the lineup after their performance lagged. Hextall believes Sanheim will eventually bounce back and reflect at his rookie season as a valuable learning experience.

“Sometimes the only way they learn is by missing a shift or having their ice cut back a bit or getting sat out at some point,” Hextall said. “Most players have gotten sat out in their career. If you ask most guys, not at the time, they say it was a good lesson. There are a lot of things our young guys are learning right now, not only at this level, but at Lehigh.”

Gostisbehere and Konecny are playing arguably some of the best hockey of their careers right now.

Even if Sanheim has more upside and potential than Manning, the veteran has proven to be more reliable defensively and has even been more opportunistic in the offensive end. In a twist of fate, Sanheim's offensive upside is a big reason why Hextall selected him with a first-round pick in 2014. Sanheim has one goal and four assists in 35 games played this season.

“You've got to get stronger. You make a mistake and if you can’t rebound from it, you're probably not going to be at this level for very long,” Hextall said. “There’s learning curves all along the way. You can’t look at everything in a vacuum. There’s a small picture and there’s a big picture.”

Hextall is right. At this critical point of the NHL season, the bigger picture of winning outweighs the smaller picture of player development.