Flyers

Flyers composing own post-Christmas blues

Flyers composing own post-Christmas blues

BOX SCORE

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.

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Friday night for Game 5 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-1)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia; Pregame Live at 6 p.m.

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups (without Sean Couturier; more on him here)

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Jori-Lehtera-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Sean Couturier (injured), Taylor Leier and Dale Weise; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Penguins
Forwards
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensemen
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Patric Hornqvist (injured), Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Flyers' energy level
The Penguins would love nothing more than to close out the series on home ice and rest up as they await the winner of the Capitals-Blue Jackets series. Sometimes that can force a team with a chance to close out a series to take its foot off the gas ever so slightly. The crowd at PPG Paints Arena will be roaring and the key for the Flyers is to survive the initial first 10 minutes of the opening period as the Penguins will come out strong in attack mode. Falling behind early could lead to the Flyers accepting their fate and the Penguins closing out the series in five games. 

Bold prediction: The Flyers will extend the series to a Game 6. They have performed admirably in closeout games when facing elimination. Claude Giroux stuck out his neck a little bit when he told reporters “we’ll be back for Game 6.” Giroux’s made similar statements not regarded as bold guarantees, but he usually backs up his words and doesn’t back down from a challenge. The captain also held a brief meeting with teammates on the ice Thursday near the conclusion of practice. A handful of the Flyers can recall falling down to the Capitals 3-0 in 2015-16 before the Flyers rallied to win the next two games before losing, 1-0, in Game 6. We should see a much more defensive-minded effort similar to Game 2.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on: 
Robert Hagg
We have a pretty good feel for how this game will go. Brandon Manning will fall a few times, turn it over a bunch. The Pens will be all over the Flyers. The only thing we don't know is how Hagg plays in his first career playoff game. Should have been sooner, much, much sooner. Should have been Manning who came out and not Travis Sanheim. Anyways, how does Hagg fare against the big, bad Penguins?

Bold prediction: "It's Close Until It Isn't." Mothers, a four-piece indie rock band from Athens, Georgia, has a song titled "It Hurts Until It Doesn't." Pretty accurate description of these Flyers right now. It hurts until you realize they were never really in it. Then comes acceptance. Tonight will be close until it isn't. Pittsburgh blows this open in the second period and series over.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Which team scores first
If the Penguins take an early 1-0 lead, it will be a death blow to these Flyers. They've been dreadful at recovering from Pittsburgh goals, showing no ability to redirect momentum. Given how this series has transpired, the Penguins striking first might crush any confidence the Flyers have left in the tank. However, if the Flyers can jump out with a statement, the belief that this series can meet a Game 6 in Philadelphia will only grow.

Bold prediction: Sidney Crosby lights the lamp first, matching the Flyers' goal output for the series and signaling the unofficial end of the first-round matchup. Crosby's been so darn good this series that it seems only fitting he gets things started in front of the home crowd. The Flyers will score but Crosby's tone-setting marker will be the beginning of the end for the 2017-18 Flyers.

Recommended reading
• Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

• What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

• Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

• Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers’ morning skate before Game 5

ap-sean-couturier_0.jpg
AP Images

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers’ morning skate before Game 5

PITTSBURGH — With general manager Ron Hextall looking on from the tunnel to the bench, Sean Couturier took faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere during Friday’s morning skate. 

Putting pressure on his injured right leg while gaining leverage in the faceoff circle was part of determining the pain tolerance and whether Couturier could play in Game 5 against the Penguins.

“I don’t know. Trying to get a test but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs,” Couturier said rather jokingly. “It was kinda tough to test it out. I was just trying to simulate game situations.”

Of course, morning skates are nothing resembling the speed and intensity of a playoff game, but Friday marked the third straight day Couturier has skated.

“I felt pretty good. I felt better than yesterday,” Couturier said. “Still hoping. I guess I’ll take warm-ups and see how that goes. More movement, more skating than the last two times. It was a good day. It’s one thing to play but you’ve got to be able to help the team as well.”

Two years ago, playing without Couturier, the Flyers fought off elimination twice in their six-game series against the Capitals after falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series. Head coach Dave Hakstol believes that experience is something the veterans can impart on the younger, more experienced Flyers.

“This is a very different team — a lot of different personnel,” Hakstol said. “There were some guys that were part of that series, and some other guys who have different playoff experiences. So, I think you draw off your veterans’ experience.”

Historically, the Flyers have succumbed to the opponent when trailing 3-1 in a seven-game series with a 1-16 record when facing elimination entering Game 5. The only exception came during the Flyers remarkable 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

At this point, Hakstol doesn’t feel the need to motivate by stressing the importance of a must-win game. 

“We didn’t do a whole lot of talking yesterday,” Hakstol said. “We went out and had a good practice and took 24 hours as we traveled here to Pittsburgh. We talked a little bit in the morning just to get our focus in place. For the most part, we know where we’re at, so there’s no need to go into a bunch of clichés.”

Interestingly, Hakstol would not confirm his starting goaltender, but Brian Elliott is expected to make his seventh straight start despite a 4.75 goals against with a .856 save percentage in the first five games. Elliott, who was not on the ice for the morning skate, was stretching and going through his typical game-day rituals.

“We need a big performance from our goalie, yes, that’s fair to say,” said Hextall. “We’re going into their building and they’re going to be hungry, so we need a big performance from our goalie.”