Flyers

Flyers fail biggest test of season with loss to Blue Jackets

Flyers fail biggest test of season with loss to Blue Jackets

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Allowing two goals during a span of 11 seconds in the first period set the tone for the Flyers in a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets in the final meeting between the two teams.

Bad defensive coverages and a failure to clear their own zone led to a very poor start.

Claude Giroux scored the Flyers' first goal for the third straight game and has now scored 11 goals in his last 18 games.

The Flyers had to fight back from three different two-goal deficits, but couldn’t manufacture the game-tying goal in the third period.

Shayne Gostisbehere scored his 12th goal just 16 seconds into the second period to reduce the Blue Jackets' lead to 3-2, but Columbus answered just 3:09 later as Cam Atkinson scored his second goal of the game.

Atkinson netted a hat trick after adding an empty-net goal in the final second.

The Flyers and Blue Jackets are now tied with 81 points in the Metropolitan Division as both teams have 11 games remaining. The Flyers hold the tiebreaker with one more regulation/overtime victory.

• It took all of 11 seconds for the Flyers to fall behind 2-0. With the Flyers chasing the puck around their end, they couldn’t clear the zone as Travis Sanheim pushed the puck forward without gaining possession. That allowed the Jackets to maintain possession and Oliver Bjorkstrand from one knee roofed a shot from close range. Those types of mishaps the Flyers must avoid.  

• Columbus came right back and doubled its lead with four of its defenders along the boards. Once the Blue Jackets gained possession, Boone Jenner simply beat Brandon Manning to the front of the net and redirected Jack Johnson’s slap pass in which Petr Mrazek had very little shot at stopping. It’s a lost board battle leading to a breakdown in coverage that we’ve seen from the Flyers on several occasions this season.  

• Giroux had Sergei Bobrovsky beaten on a breakaway attempt but the puck hit the post. However, Giroux received his redemption and fired a one-timer past Bobrovsky. The Flyers' top two lines were very good in the offensive zone in the first period.

• Another tough break for Mrazek as the Blue Jackets took a 3-1 lead after Atkinson batted in Seth Jones’ shot from the point. Another goal where the Flyers were chasing the puck in their end and couldn’t clear the zone.

• Two bad goals to start the second period. Gostisbehere scored on a simple snap shot from the right circle that Bobrovsky couldn’t contain as the puck snuck past him. Mrazek answered with a bad goal of his own as Atkinson beat him blocker side. The way Mrazek played it appeared as if he was never on his angle. 

• Giroux took a puck to the side of his face that forced him to go to the locker room and get treatment. The Flyers' captain returned in the final three minutes of the second period.

• Andrew MacDonald needed every bit of the 72 inches from post to post to beat Bobrovsky as his slap shot clanked off the right post and then the left post to cut the Jackets' lead to 4-3 after 40 minutes of action.

• The Flyers came out for the third period with a desperate mindset, outshooting Columbus, 9-3, in the first 10 minutes, but not much from the high-danger areas.

• John Tortorella completely lost his mind when the officials whistled the Blue Jackets for too many men on the ice. His theatrics make those seats behind the bench worth the price of admission.

• The officials let a lot of stuff go in that first period, including a clear crosscheck into the back of Sean Couturier on the Giroux goal. Not sure how or why that wasn't called. 

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.