Flyers composing own post-Christmas blues

Flyers composing own post-Christmas blues


SUNRISE, Fla. — Elvis Presley sang about a Blue Christmas. The Flyers are composing their own lyrics to the post-Christmas time blues.

In what's becoming habit coming out of the three-day, league-wide holiday shutdown, the Flyers brought a lackluster effort in the opening 30 minutes Thursday night on their way to a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers (see observations).

“We really didn’t start playing until halfway through this game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, who began switching up his lines near the end of the first period. “We spotted our opponent three goals and then we got into the intensity level of the game.

"As we went into third, we’re looking for nine forwards that could meet or match the intensity level that the game was at.”

One noticeable move Hakstol made early on was Scott Laughton jumping up into Nolan Patrick’s center position on the second line, as Laughton finished with seven more shifts than the 19-year-old rookie.

“You got to do something when we’re that sloppy to start with,” Laughton said. “Nothing’s going on, giving up odd man rushes every shift it seemed like. We had a good late push, but early in the game, we just weren’t good enough.”

The last time the Flyers won the game proceeding the Christmas break was Dec. 28, 2013, and their record over the past three years after Dec. 25 reflects something resembling a week-long hangover:

• 0-3-1 in 2016-17

• 0-3-0 in 2015-16

• 0-4-1 in 2014-15

“They were off too, so there’s no excuses,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It is what it is.”

Before the viewer at home could settle in for an evening of Flyers hockey, Hakstol’s team was whistled for two penalties in the opening three minutes, which led to the Panthers' early 5-on-3 power play for one minute and 19 seconds. Even after the Flyers successfully killed it off, they still couldn’t muster any momentum.

“I think our urgency was a little off, coming into this one,” Brian Elliott said. “They came at us hard and we really didn’t match it until the final 10 minutes of the game. We've got to have a little bit more jump tomorrow night.”

Hakstol preached attention to details following Thursday morning’s skate, and the Flyers responded with precisely the opposite, as sloppiness and repeated breakdowns led to numerous odd-man rushes for the Panthers throughout the first half of the game.

The Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after Derek MacKenzie scored shorthanded — the fifth shorthanded goal the Flyers allowed — after Claude Giroux’s pass along the boards was cut off leading to a 2-on-1 break for Florida.

“We just couldn’t get anything going,” Giroux said. “The power play wasn’t sharp and that starts with me, and it was a bad game.”

Perhaps forward Michael Raffl perhaps summed it up best.

“I don’t think our passes were crisp enough," he said. "We weren’t skating. We weren’t working hard enough. We didn’t win enough battles. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough. There’s a lot of excuses out there if you look for them.”

Right now, the Flyers need to look for answers and quickly as they fly to central Florida. That's where they will face the NHL’s top team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, with an overall record of 27-7-2.

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.