Flyers

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Offense fizzles in road shutout

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Offense fizzles in road shutout

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Blackhawks provided the Flyers with every chance in the world to score and score often. However, the end result was a failure to score altogether as the Flyers suffered a 3-0 loss at the United Center. 

Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford stopped all 35 shots he faced as the Flyers were shut out for the third time in 13 games this season. 

The Flyers’ record dropped to 6-6-1 as they’ve lost four of their last five games.

• Once again, the Flyers lost another defenseman as Radko Gudas left after the first period and never returned with an upper-body injury. That limited the Flyers to five D-men, three of them rookies.

• With 11:30 remaining in regulation, Jakub Voracek had a nice stretch pass to Claude Giroux, who streaked around Brent Seabrook. But once again, Crawford came up with another big stop. Without question, the Flyers had a handful of grade-A opportunities but were just unable to convert. 

• Voracek had an early opportunity as he took a pass from Giroux and wheeled around Chicago defenseman Jan Rutta, but he couldn’t sneak the puck past Crawford’s outstretched pad.

• The Flyers were playing with fire in the second period and they finally got burned on Chicago’s fourth power play of the game. Richard Panik fired a big slap shot that Brian Elliott stopped. However, Artem Anisimov cut in behind Ivan Provorov to put in the rebound. Several things: Provorov’s reaction kept him from sealing off Anisimov’s path to the crease, and there was no one to clear the rebound. That said, even in the first period, Elliott was not crisp with his rebounds, often lunging to cover pucks in front of him. 

• The Blackhawks’ power-play goal in that second period snapped an 0-for-18 skid.

• Twenty seconds after making it 1-0, Chicago grabbed a 2-0 lead when Jonathan Toews connected on a breakaway. Robert Hagg simply whiffed on trying a shot from the blue line. Toews saw an opening, jumped all over it, and slid a backhand through Elliott’s five-hole. Just an unfortunate play for the rookie Hagg.  

• Aside from a delay of game penalty, there was more to like with Mark Alt’s game. He perfectly played a Chicago 2-on-1 to deny a scoring chance with his stick and knocked the puck to the corner. Later in the second period, he played some airtight defense on Toews as he stuck with him along the boards before he finished a check to send the Blackhawks’ captain to the ice. After 40 minutes, Alt led the Flyers with four hits.

• Travis Sanheim had his best shot so far at scoring his first NHL goal when he was sprung free on a breakaway. Sanheim looked to go top left corner, but Crawford came up with perhaps his best save of the game as he caught the shot with his blocker.

• The Flyers were close to scoring the first goal on several occasions, including when Jori Lehtera flipped a puck that Crawford couldn’t handle. With the puck bouncing around and Crawford clearly out of position, Dale Weise couldn’t get a good whack on it or he likely would have scored his second goal of the season. This was Weise’s first game back after being a healthy scratch the previous three, and he still appears to be fighting rust. 

• A solid job by Flyers as they didn’t allow the Blackhawks to set up their cycle game down low in the first period. Alt turned in a solid opening 20 minutes in his first road NHL game. Watching him closely, he wasn’t rattled playing in a hostile environment. Alt’s only hiccup came early in the period when he lost track of the puck between his skates, which let Lance Bouma to get off a backhand shot. Alt played 4:53 in the opening period.

• It was a roller coaster-type first period for Valtteri Filppula, who had a breakaway wrist shot — the Flyers’ best chance early on — and a wraparound attempt that nearly shot up and over Crawford for a goal. In the same shift, Filppula got his stick around Nick Schmaltz for a hooking penalty. Earlier in the first, Filppula was whistled for high sticking.

• It was good to see Travis Konecny move up to the Flyers’ second line as he appeared to grow frustrated on the third line without Nolan Patrick. Dave Hakstol would like to see more from Konecny and this was a good opportunity as the Jordan Weal-Filppula-Wayne Simmonds combo has not played, nor generated much offense, over its last three games.

• The Blackhawks' best chance at scoring during the first came in the final minute of the period when Cody Franson’s shot trickled past Elliott. Thankfully for the Flyers, there was no one for the ‘Hawks to clean up the rebound. Chicago’s power play has really been a mess this season. The Blackhawks came into this game 2 for 30 on home ice, and on their first power-play chance the Flyers had three easy clears in the first minute.

• In defense of a hit on linemate Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton dropped the gloves with defenseman Connor Murphy, who the Blackhawks acquired from Arizona as part of the Niklas Kjalmarsson trade. Murphy is the son of Flyers assistant Gord Murphy. He didn’t exactly make dad proud as Laughton took him to the ice right away. 

• Voracek nearly banked a shot off of Crawford, who came out of his net to play the puck but showed little urgency in getting back to his crease. The goal-hungry Sean Couturier, who leads the team with nine goals, jumped on the opportunity and tried to bang home a loose puck. Couturier has a tenaciousness about him right now that comes with confidence.

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
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Mark Alt

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Matt Read (healthy), and defensemen Will O’Neill (healthy) and Shayne Gostisbehere (upper body).

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

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Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in his 300th career win and the Nashville Predators routed the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville, which has won three straight. The Predators moved within one point of expansion Vegas for the Western Conference lead.

Nashville defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban each had two assists.

All of Rinne's wins have come with Nashville. He tied former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun for 33rd place in NHL history.

Logan Couture had the San Jose goal. The loss snapped the Sharks' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Wild use big 2nd period to top Devils
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored in a 39-second span during Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild rallied from two down to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Thursday night.

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly also scored in the second period and Eric Staal iced the game with an empty-net goal, his 900th NHL point. Backup goalie Alex Stalock made 38 saves as the Wild moved into third place in the Central Division after winning for the 11th time in 17 games (11-3-3).

Taylor Hall and Stefan Noesen scored for the Devils, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. Eddie Lack made 21 saves.

Hall's 13-game point streak is the longest in NHL this season, one more than David Pastrnak of Boston.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau made the right moves in this one, inserting Reilly and Stewart into the lineup and electing to give No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk a night off (see full recap).

Matthews exits Maple Leafs’ SO victory with injury
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner and the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night.

Auston Matthews tipped in Jake Gardiner's shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but later left the game favoring his right side after taking a hit from Cal Clutterbuck and did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion and another four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home.

Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Jaroslav Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.

With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL's rookie scoring race (see full recap).

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When Dave Hakstol was hired on May 18, 2015, to become the 19th head coach of the Flyers, there was an underlying belief that given his collegiate pedigree, Hakstol was the perfect bench boss to handle the team's homegrown prospects.

However, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, the progression of a young player doesn’t always continue on an upward trajectory from the moment they start their NHL career.

As he juggles a roster that is now the youngest in the Eastern Conference following injuries to Brian Elliott and Wayne Simmonds, Hakstol appears to be pushing all of the right buttons, including those connected with the organization’s most prized prospect, Nolan Patrick.

Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets further exemplified that as Patrick scored a power-play goal in his second straight game (see observations). With the injury to Simmonds, Hakstol believed Patrick could slide seamlessly into Simmonds' net-front role on the top unit, and the rookie has yet to disappoint his coach or teammates.

“I think there’s a little less pressure,” Patrick said. “You don’t have the puck on your stick as much. I think my shots are something I need to improve on. It’s kind of nice for me to be there and not try and beat goalies with my shots. I like it there.”

Hakstol recognized early in the opening month of the season that Patrick wasn’t quite ready to handle the role of being a top-six forward, but over the course of an 82-game season, he has gradually given the 19-year-old center more responsibility and Patrick has proved he’s deserving of the coach’s trust.

“His approach, his hockey sense and his intelligence is what gives him an opportunity to be successful in any situation,” Hakstol said. “Each time we’ve been able to give him more of an opportunity, he’s taken advantage of that. Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis — up and down the middle of the rink, playing a good 200-foot game, and the fact he’s taken pride in that is the foundation of his game.”

“He’s been great,” Patrick said of Hakstol. “When I first got here, they made me work for everything. They didn’t put me in situations I wasn’t ready for. Even now, when I’m not playing great, he does what’s best for the team. He’ll hold me back or not put me out there when I’m struggling on faceoffs. He notices that and he’s been huge for me.”

And Patrick has been huge for the Flyers. He’s now scored a goal in three straight games. 

You’re never quite sure when the future will eventually catch up to the present, but with the help of his head coach, it’s coming at just the right time for Nolan Patrick.