Flyers

Flyers preparing for dangers of facing winless, desperate Coyotes

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Flyers preparing for dangers of facing winless, desperate Coyotes

Updated: 5:43 p.m.

If you’re not first, you’re last. That’s how the saying goes.

As far as the Flyers are concerned Monday, they don’t want to be first for the last.

The winless Arizona Coyotes, who feature former Flyers Luke Schenn, Nick Cousins and Zac Rinaldo and are coached by former Flyer Rick Tocchet, come into South Philly sporting an 0-10-1 record through the first four weeks of the season.

That’s an 11-game winless stretch to start off a new season.

Ouch.

But that creates a dangerous scenario for the Flyers, who will be encountering a desperate team. And the Flyers don’t want the egg on their face of being the first victim of a team with an NHL-worst minus-22 goal differential.

“It’s a dangerous game where we can’t take them lightly,” Sean Couturier said. “They’re a better team than what their record actually shows. They have some pretty good skills up front and some young legs that skate pretty well. We’re going to have to be ready to skate and compete tonight.”

Couturier is right. The Coyotes, despite their miserable record, do have plenty of talent.

Max Domi and Anthony DuClair are young stars in the making. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is as good a defenseman as there is in the league. Derek Stepan has long been a thorn in the Flyers’ side from his Rangers days (nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points in 33 games against the Flyers. The 31 points are the most he’s recorded vs. any team.). And Clayton Keller is the early season Calder Trophy favorite for rookie of the year.

The Coyotes are going to win eventually. They almost did Saturday night in New Jersey before falling, 4-3. The Flyers just don’t want it at their expense.

“They’re a desperate hockey team and they’ve been playing some pretty good hockey as of late,” Travis Sanheim said. “The results haven’t been there. But we’re going to have a good challenge. I think they’re a competitive team.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol on Monday morning wasn’t in the mood to talk about the Coyotes’ struggles. He was more focused on fixing the inconsistencies of his own team, which is coming off a solid 4-2 victory in Toronto on Saturday, but lost its previous two games while giving up 11 goals.

“We’ve got to really prepare to take advantage of opportunities,” Hakstol said. “Every team presents different challenges. The team we’re facing tonight deserved a better fate in its last few games.

“We’ve got our own things we’re focusing on. Like I said to the team, we have our own things we need to and want to improve on.”

Not falling to a winless team would be a good first step there.

No Morin
Samuel Morin wasn’t present at Monday’s morning skate and GM Ron Hextall solved the mystery for reporters afterward.

Morin is dealing with a nagging injury and Hextall did not expect the young defenseman to suit up against the Coyotes.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” Hextall said of Morin, who was called up from Lehigh Valley on Sunday evening. “The intent was to call him up. If he can’t play, we’ll call another defenseman up.”

Defenseman Mark Alt was later called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and is expected in the lineup.

Injury updates
Both Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick will miss tonight’s game as they continue to nurse their respective upper-body injuries.

Gostisbehere was injured after absorbing a hit in the second period of the win in Toronto on Saturday. Patrick was injured when his head smacked against the glass after taking a check last Tuesday vs. Anaheim.

Hextall said both are considered day to day.

Lines
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lethera–Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Mark Alt

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Nick Ritchie an unlikely hero as Ducks win in 11-round shootout

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Nick Ritchie an unlikely hero as Ducks win in 11-round shootout

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nick Ritchie isn't one of the first players called upon for the Anaheim Ducks in a shootout.

He wasn't among the first 10 shooters Saturday.

Yet, Ritchie scored in the 11th round of the shootout and John Gibson stopped the final seven shooters in the Ducks' 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

"It seems like once it gets over five or six (rounds) it can go over 15 sometimes, so there was a good chance I was going to get a shot there and I capitalized on it," said Ritchie, whose quick shot split the pads of Devan Dubnyk. Ritchie missed his other shootout attempt this season.

Prior to the goal, the teams combined for 13 straight misses.

"Anytime you win a shootout that goes that long, you feel fortunate you get the extra point. Some big stops from our goaltender, and we found a guy who scored the big goal. We'll take it," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. (see full recap).

Raanta saves 39 shots in shutout win for streaking Coyotes 
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The customized title belt the Arizona Coyotes pass around for a top performance in a victory was already in Antti Raanta's possession after a win two days earlier against Montreal.

Raanta did even more to earn the belt Saturday, though he handed it off to defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Raanta made 39 saves for his first shutout of the season and the Coyotes won their fourth straight, scoring on their first shot in a 1-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.

Raanta had his ninth career shutout, helping the Coyotes earn points for the fifth time in six games.

"You never get the shutouts just by yourself, you need a good team in front of you," Raanta said. "It shows you how much better we are right now ... I went with `Hammer' because Hammer's been blocking more shots than I have sometimes saved."

Cam Talbot made 31 saves for Edmonton. The Oilers have lost six in a row (see full recap).

Lundqvist pulled in Rangers' loss to Senators
OTTAWA, Ontario —  The Ottawa Senators' quick start led to an early exit for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Derick Brassard had a goal and two assists and Ottawa defeated the New York Rangers 6-3 on Saturday.

Lundqvist allowed five goals on 27 shots before being replaced by Brandon Halverson with 13 minutes remaining.

Halverson stopped five of the six shots he faced for New York in his NHL debut.

Matt Duchene and Mark Stone both added a goal and an assist for Ottawa, which has won two straight. Craig Anderson also stopped 35 shots and Johnny Oduya, Magnus Paajarvi and Thomas Chabot also scored (see full recap).

Lack saves 48 shots as Devils beat Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. — Eddie Lack made 48 saves and the New Jersey Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday night.

Making his third appearance as the backup since being recalled from Binghamton of the AHL on Feb. 4, Lack made a terrific glove save on Brayden Point's in-close shot midway through the second.

Ben Lovejoy, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha and Miles Wood scored for the Devils. Taylor Hall had an assist and has a point in each of the last 17 games he has played in.

Tampa Bay got goals from Chris Kunitz, Point and Steven Stamkos, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 24 shots (see full recap).

Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

When Sean Couturier briefly left Friday’s game in Columbus, his absence ignited a conversation around the NBC Sports Philadelphia newsroom which led to the Hot Take question: Which player could the Flyers least afford to lose to injury? In other words, which Flyer is the most indispensable to the team’s overall success? Here's my ranking, starting at the top, of the players the Flyers can least afford to lose. Let the debate begin.

1. Michal Neuvirth 
This may come as a surprise considering that just a few weeks ago, Neuvirth was serving in a reserve role behind Brian Elliott who was the clear-cut No. 1 in net. Since stepping in as a starter, Neuvirth has promptly delivered with a .950 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against. The reason Neuvirth falls under the heading as most indispensable is rather simple: the drop-off from Neuvirth to Alex Lyon is significantly steep. Lyon struggled in his two starts adapting to the NHL’s level of pace and skill, and right now, Lyon’s not a viable option to handle the No. 1 job over an extended period. Without Neuvirth, Lyon and Phantoms goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has 34 games of NHL experience plus five playoff games with the Montreal Canadiens, would serve as the Flyers' 1-2 punch in net. 

2. Ivan Provorov 
The Flyers' shutdown defenseman logs more than three minutes of ice time more than the next Flyers defenseman, and his playing partner, Shayne Gostisbehere, has elevated his game (both offensively and defensively) since he’s been paired with Provorov. Andrew MacDonald’s flaws weren’t quite as exposed playing side-by-side with Provorov prior to the switch. While Provorov hasn’t quite been his steady self over the past several weeks and his puck handling at times can be adventurous, you can’t disregard his importance because his work along the boards and his ability to separate the player from the puck is unquestionably the best among the Flyers' blueliners. If the Flyers lost Provorov, rookie Robert Hägg or MacDonald would likely join Gostisbehere on the top pairing, with Radko Gudas moving up to the second pairing and Mark Alt becoming a regular contributor again.

3. Sean Couturier 
The Flyers' No. 1 center has logged some monster minutes this season. Among forwards, only Kings captain Anze Kopitar has been on the ice more than Couturier, who also ranks fourth in average ice time. Couturier plays a vital role in all situations and will likely be a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, not to mention, he’s also on pace to score a mind-blowing 41 goals this season. When Couturier registers a point, the Flyers' record is 23-4-9 this season. Few players can drive to the net with and without the puck as effectively as Couturier. Senators coach Guy Boucher recently called him a “buy-in guy,” who will essentially do anything that is asked of him and then some. It's difficult to envision how the Flyers would adapt without Couturier. I can't see Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton or Valtteri Filppula stepping into his role as the No. 1 center, so moving Claude Giroux to the middle and Jake Voracek to left wing on the first line would likely make the most sense.

4. Jakub Voracek 
When healthy, Voracek makes an entire line better, no matter who he’s with. While Voracek commits his share of turnovers and giveaways, his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone is such an important part of the team’s puck possession metrics. He started the season with Giroux and Couturier before Dave Hakstol was forced to break up that trio in a desperate attempt to snap the Flyers' 10-game winless streak. His numbers have remained consistent regardless of who he has played with, and while he’s not a primary scoring option, the Flyers' power play funnels in Voracek’s direction with his league-leading 25 power play assists. No one Flyer can step into Voracek’s role and do precisely what he does on a nightly basis.

5. Claude Giroux 
Hard to believe that the Flyers' leading scorer and the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer would be fifth on this list, but it speaks more to the depth of the Flyers than it does to Giroux himself. Without Giroux, Couturier would not be enjoying the career season he’s had, and even Travis Konecny for that matter. Giroux is back playing in the 20-minute range after an injury-plagued season, and like Couturier and Voracek, redistributing those minutes would not come easily. There are the intangibles to Giroux’s game that are hard to quantify. Giroux's absence would create several holes — the ability to create offense with his vision and hockey IQ, his leadership, and the importance of winning crucial faceoffs. At 58.5 percent, Giroux ranks third in the NHL in faceoff percentage.