Flyers

Flyers-Canucks observations: Sweeping the nation

Flyers-Canucks observations: Sweeping the nation

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With the help of the power play, the Flyers swept their Western Canada road trip for the first time since 2013, beating the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, at Rogers Arena.

Michael Raffl scored for the fifth time in his last eight games and the Flyers' power play converted twice for the first time since Oct. 10 in Nashville — a span of 25 games.

The Flyers also snapped the Canucks' three-game winning streak.

Brian Elliott started and won all three games on the road trip, stopping 36 of 37 shots against Vancouver.

Jakub Voracek added three more assists and now leads the NHL with 30 helpers this season, one better than Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler.

The Flyers and Canucks split their season series after Vancouver took the previous meeting, 5-2, at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 21. 

• Jordan Weal picked up the game’s first penalty on a slashing call, which wasn’t really much of a slash. Weal actually held out his stick as Alexander Burmistrov skated by. 

• There was bad coverage on the Flyers' ensuing PK, with both defensemen guarding the post looking for the pass. Markus Granlund was left all alone in front of Elliott with a point-blank shot. 

• The Flyers had trouble in the opening seven minutes gaining any traction in the offensive zone. At one point, the Canucks held a 9-0 advantage in shots as the Flyers looked like a team playing its third game in four nights.

• Through the first 10 minutes of the game, I really liked the way Shayne Gostisbehere looked, stepping up into passing lanes, breaking up plays. He displayed good 1-on-1 defense and looked confident with the puck.

• Sean Couturier drew the Flyers' first penalty — a hooking call on Alexander Edler. Along with Wayne Simmonds, both players worked hard below the goal line, outworking the opponent. The Flyers finally seemed to have some energy after playing back on their heels in the first eight minutes of the game.

• Later in the first period, Gostisbehere gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead after ripping a slap shot from the point that deflected off Sam Gagner’s stick and pass Jacob Markstrom, who had no shot once it hit Gagner’s stick. 

• Voracek then had a pair of good looks. First was to a cutting Raffl that Markstrom had to reach out with his glove to make the save. The second came with Valtteri Filppula stationed in front of the crease. That second line has played well for Dave Hakstol since he made the change in Calgary.

• The third power-play opportunity was completely ineffective, as the Flyers failed to generate a shot on Markstrom. The only attempted shot came when Claude Giroux had a nice look inside to Couturier, who fired over the net. Shots were 15-12 Canucks after one period following a sluggish start by the Flyers. Their best player in the first was Brian Elliott by far — he made some key saves throughout.

• The Flyers grabbed a 2-0 lead when Voracek tried to dump the puck in and it deflected off Raffl in the neutral zone. Once they crossed the blue line, Raffl worked a nice give-and-go with Voracek and slid underneath Loui Eriksson, who had bad defensive coverage on the play.

“I’ve been working real hard the whole year,” Raffl said after the second period. “I had a tough stretch the first 20 games or so, but I had scoring chances and as long as you get scoring chances during a game, you shouldn’t change much. All you need is one goal to get your confidence up a little bit and that’s what’s happening right now.”

• The Canucks got the matchup they wanted with the Sedins out there against the Nolan Patrick line and the Flyers' third defense pairing, but credit Mark Alt for taking Daniel Sedin with the body and tangling up their sticks behind the net. Alt has looked very good in the two games he’s recently played. I like the manner in which he challenges shooters/puck-handlers in the offensive zone. He doesn’t sit back.

• In the second period, Giroux uncorked that patented one-time blast from the left circle, giving the Flyers a 3-0 lead.

• Floating around the blue line, former Flyer Gagner skated in uncontested only to take a shot that had a better chance of hitting me in the press box than it did of beating Elliott.

• Tough shift for Alt at the end of the second period. He got caught at the tail end of a shift and couldn’t get off for a change. Elliott wasn’t able to corral the rebound with Sven Baertschi along with Brock Boeser crashing the net. Boeser wristed a shot past Elliott and it was a painful goal to give up in the final minute of the second period.

• Not sure what Hakstol was looking at when he decided to challenge the goal for goaltender interference, but there was nothing that remotely indicated interference. 

• Simmonds iced things with his second empty-netter in as many games. He has now tallied a marker in three straight contests. 

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy), and defensemen TJ Brennan (healthy) and Radko Gudas (suspended).

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.