Flyers turning their backs on Broad Street Bully mentality

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Flyers turning their backs on Broad Street Bully mentality

VOORHEES, N.J. — If you're a believer in conspiracy theory, then you can finally feel somewhat reassured that the NHL and its crew of officials are no longer out to get the Flyers

At least not this season.

Since the start of December, the guys in orange and black have been on the nice list of those wearing black and white. The Flyers have gone eight straight games without allowing their opponent more than two power-play opportunities.

That accomplishment alone is unprecedented. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, at no point over the previous 30 years (how far their research goes back) have the Flyers had a stretch of hockey where they've exercised such cautious discipline. By comparison, over the past three seasons, the Flyers had only a five-game stretch in which they allowed their opponent two or fewer power play chances. 

"I think we're hitting better," said Jake Voracek, who leads the Flyers with 13 minor penalties taken. "When you hesitate to go into the spots you're supposed to be in and you get there too late, you reach in and you're hooking. When you're confident and you're playing with urgency, you have that extra step. I think that's the biggest thing."

Over the team's current eight-game stretch, the Flyers' power play opportunities have also outnumbered their opponents by a whopping plus-21 margin (34-13) while outscoring teams by six more goals with the man advantage.   

By contrast, the Flyers were a minus-15 in the special teams department, allowing 41 power play opportunities to their 26 from early November through the 10-game winless streak. The basis behind the turnaround in their results can be primarily attributed to this area.

"I think we got lazy," Dale Weise said. "We got down in games and that's when you get frustrated and you start to take slashing penalties or penalties 200 feet away from your net. We had some timely penalties that killed us late in games during that stretch."

Perhaps there's a belief that the scales of justice will eventually tip in the direction of the Flyers' opponents, but the Flyers have made significant improvements 5-on-5, where they have allowed just 50 goals this season — tied for first in the NHL. Head coach Dave Hakstol feels if the Flyers continue their style of play, officials won't have that opportunity.

"We went through a stretch where we had some issues, where we were in the box too much," Hakstol said. "A lot of those, I felt, were stick penalties, were penalties created from chasing a play, chasing a game.

"I feel like we've had the puck a little bit more over this last stretch. When you have to defend less and you have the puck more, the penalty differential is going to go your way. So it's not just about discipline, it's about how much you have the puck versus how much you're trying to get it back and you're defending." 

Under Hakstol, the Flyers have gradually improved their standing in the Department of Discipline — from 23rd in minor penalties taken during his first season in 2015-16, to 16th a year ago, to now tied for 10th through their first 33 games of the season.

In hockey, it's much better to think — and play — outside the box.  

Neuvirth to return
Michal Neuvirth is expected to back up fellow goaltender Brian Elliott when the Flyers host the Red Wings Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Neuvirth practiced for the first time with teammates Tuesday but was on the ice for the fourth straight day as he continues to work his way back from a lower-body injury that he sustained in Calgary a few weeks ago.

"Conditioning's good, I've been moving well," Neuvirth said. "It's about the timing and tracking the puck. The eyes have to get quicker a little bit."

With the Flyers on the back end of a stretch of seven games in a 12-day span, it's likely Neuvirth will earn one of two starts on the team's upcoming back-to-back road games in Buffalo and Columbus.

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway


NEW YORK — Flyers players lifted their massive equipment bags onto carts outside the visiting locker room of Madison Square Garden.

There wasn't much energy or zealousness to such a mundane task.

Shortly before doing so, the Flyers made skating in the world's most famous arena seem just as mundane, allowing the New York Rangers to turn Broadway into breakaway on Tuesday night to the tune of a 5-1 loss (see observations).

"We just made too many mistakes that cost us," Jakub Voracek said. "Four goals out of five came off our mistakes, so it's tough."

The Rangers, not once, but twice during the first period, bolted behind the Flyers' slow-reacting coverage for nothing but open ice and Brian Elliott to beat. On both occasions, New York scored easily and took control of the evening.

It was a full exploitation of a Flyers team that had won four straight but wasn't "engaged in this game enough," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it.

With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest, Pavel Buchnevich fed a stretch pass to Rick Nash streaking up the middle of the ice, leaving defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the dust. Both the delivery from Buchnevich and the speed of Nash appeared to catch Gudas and Manning by surprise.

"The first one, probably a better read by me and Gudy," Manning said. "We talked before the game, we knew that's what they were going to do, they were going to try and stretch us out. That one we can probably eliminate."

The second was deflating in every way imaginable. As the Flyers sputtered through their first man advantage, a pass behind Jordan Weal bounced off the side boards and right to Peter Holland. With most of the Flyers' second power-play unit pinching on the attack, New York rushed up ice and beat Manning in retreat as Holland hit Paul Carey for a shorthanded marker.

Whatever life the Flyers still had, it was sucked out of them.

At the time, before it unfolded, they seemed to be in OK position. The Flyers were down, 2-1, but vying for an equalizer by turning to their power play, which had been 7 for 14 over the four-game winning streak. However, what transpired was New York taking a surprising 3-1 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

"Those are ones we can prevent," Hakstol said. "They're a good transition team, so when you give them opportunities, whether it's a turnover out of their defensive zone or a turnover entering the zone, they're a good transition team. But our awareness on those plays was not what it needs to be.

"I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas of the game that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team."

The Rangers showed it some more when they went on another semi-breakaway, this time midway through the second period for a 4-1 edge. Michael Grabner came swooping in to pick Voracek's pocket before quickly flicking a shot past Elliott, who watched another blue jersey barrel down untouched toward his crease.

"We put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game," Hakstol said.

The goalie making his 18th start in the last 19 games still took blame.

"It's not the easiest way, but that's my job," Elliott, who was yanked ahead of the third period, said. "I didn't have them tonight. Go back to work and try to feel good about my game. That's not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn't really give ourselves a chance to win and I've got to own a lot of that."

Tuesday marked the Flyers' first outing against the Rangers this season.

Were they surprised by the opposition's transition game?

"No," Hakstol said.

Manning sounded like he will be far more ready when the Flyers come back to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18 for the second of four meetings.

"I don't know if surprising is the right word, they have some guys who can skate and I think we were expecting that," Manning said. "We haven't played them this year, it's the first time. When you see it for the first time, it's something a little different."

The Flyers on Thursday night will see the Maple Leafs for the third time. The previous two matchups were won by the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Manning had his best game of the season with a goal, an assist and three hits in the October victory, while rookie blueliner Travis Sanheim played in the December win.

Hakstol will have to decide between the two for Thursday.

One will be an extra, the other will want to make sure breakaways are at a minimum.

Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

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Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

NEW YORK -- Damon Severson scored twice 1:26 apart in New Jersey's three-goal second period, and the Devils ended a six-game skid with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall also scored for New Jersey, which was 0-3-3 since beating Detroit at home on Dec. 27. Keith Kinkaid, getting the start after Cory Schneider was a late scratch due to illness, stopped 25 shots.

Anders Lee scored and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves as the Islanders snapped a three-game winning streak that started with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Devils here on Jan. 7.

New Jersey trailed less than two minutes in but got four straight goals starting with Palmieri's score late in the first period.

Halak, who faced more than 35 shots on goal for his 10th straight start, made nice stops on in-close tries by Brian Boyle and Brian Gibbons with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the middle period to keep the score tied.

However, Severson gave the Devils the lead about 30 seconds later as he got the rebound of a shot by Gibbons and beat Halak from the right circle. It was the defenseman's fifth goal of the season and first in 12 games (see full recap).

Spezza scores 2 after benching in Stars’ win
DETROIT -- Jason Spezza responded to being benched by scoring two tiebreaking goals on power plays, helping the Dallas Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Tuesday night.

Spezza scored on a lunging, one-timer below the left circle with 5:52 left in the second period. His first goal came on a redirected shot midway through the first.

The 33-year-old forward was a healthy scratch on Monday when Dallas won at Boston in overtime. He bounced back by ending his 14-game goal drought, scoring twice in a game for the first time since March 12, 2016. Spezza scored 33 goals just two years ago and has 323 career goals.

Dallas' Radek Faksa and Martin Hanzal also scored. Ben Bishop stopped 13 shots for the Stars, who have won six of eight.

Trevor Daley put Detroit ahead in the opening minute, but Faksa redirected a shot past Jimmy Howard at 2:48. Andreas Athanasiou pulled the Red Wings into a 2-all tie midway through the second period and Spezza's second goal 2:25 later put Dallas ahead 3-2.

Howard had 22 saves for the Red Wings, who had won five of their previous seven games (see full recap).

Blues rally late for overtime victory
TORONTO -- Alexander Steen tied it with 57 seconds left and Vince Dunn scored 1:43 into overtime, lifting the St. Louis Blues over the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Connor Brown put Toronto ahead on a short-handed breakaway midway through the third period, but Steen scored with goalie Carter Hutton pulled for an extra attacker by backhanding Alex Pieterangelo's rebound past Frederik Andersen.

Dunn snapped a low shot past Andersen after choosing to keep the puck on a 2-on-1.

Andersen stopped 40 shots and Hutton had 30 saves.

It was the Maple Leafs' first game back after the bye week. Their last game was a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 10 (see full recap).