Flyers make their opportunities count vs. best in West

Flyers make their opportunities count vs. best in West


Scoring chances were few and far between for the Flyers Sunday night in Las Vegas. 

That wasn’t a huge surprise against the Golden Knights, who came into the game with 76 points, best in the Western Conference. But when the Flyers created opportunities, they made them count in a 4-1 win over the Golden Knights.

Overall, the Flyers were outshot, 39-18. The most shots they had in a single period was seven, which they did in each of the first two periods. Michal Neuvirth started in goal, replacing Brian Elliott, who suffered a lower-body injury in the Flyers’ 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes Saturday. He kept the Flyers in the contest, saving 38 shots.

It seemed like Sean Couturier, who registered three points, was at the center of everything the Flyers did offensively.

With their fourth-straight win, the Flyers now have 65 points through 56 games. 
• Brayden McNabb scored the game’s first goal 11:22 into the first period, ending an extended period of possession for the Golden Knights with a pinpoint shot that beat Neuvirth high to his glove side.

• Shortly after, former Flyer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who the Golden Knights selected in the expansion draft, had a prime scoring chance. Bellarme had a 1-on-0 with Alex Tuch trailing shortly behind. Bellemare carried the puck right to the front of the net but, instead of shooting, wasted the scoring chance by passing it wide to the right out of Tuch’s reach.

• The Flyers tied it up at one with 2:10 left in the first. Claude Giroux found Travis Konecny on the right side, and the 20-year-old centered a beautiful pass in front to Sean Couturier, who beat Marc-Andre Fleury. It was Couturier's 28th goal of the season. 

“We had good cycling down low and we were able to keep the puck moving around and creating some space,” Couturier said after the first period. “We were aggressive at the blue line and G made a nice play to keep it from going out and caught them with a good turnover. I went to the net hard and TK found me and it was a tap-in.”

After a pointless outing against the Coyotes, Konecny’s pass was key in sparking the Flyers, who were outshot 12-7 in the first period.
• The Golden Knights almost regained the lead near the end of the first, as Neuvirth struggled with rebound control. However, he did well to stop a series of close-range shots.

• Vegas spent much of the action early in the second period in the offensive zone, as the Flyers had just one shot in the first 9 minutes of the period before Michael Raffl broke free for a transition opportunity. He went near post with a backhand, which Fleury easily handled. 

• The Flyers were on their back foot most of the game; outside of the occasional breakaway, they didn’t seem to pose much of an offensive threat. The power play, which had scored twice in each of the last two games, had no opportunities the entire night. 

• Andrew McDonald gave the Flyers an unlikely lead with 2:52 remaining in the second, scoring his third goal of the season thanks to some good fortune. Konecny connected again with Couturier in front of the net. Couturier appeared to skew his shot wide of the net, but the puck deflected off MacDonald’s skate into the goal, wrong-footing Fleury. 

• Only right that after mustering up just four shots on goal in the first 17-plus minutes of the second period, the Flyers struck twice in under a three-minute span. Couturier recorded his third point of the game here and he really earned it. The Flyers’ center carried the puck from the blue line all the way to the right side of the net before dropping it off to Giroux right in front to finish off for the score. Giroux’s 18th goal of the season gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead heading into the second intermission.

• The third period was a lot like the start of the second, with the Flyers spending most of the time in their own zone trying to protect the two-goal lead. With under three minutes remaining, the Golden Knights were outshooting the Flyers 11-2 in the period. 

• Radko Gudas’ first goal of the season sealed the win with 2:26 remaining. With Fleury pulled, Gudas gained possession in the defensive zone and flipped the puck into the empty net.

• This was a big improvement on Neuvirth’s last start, when he allowed 5 goals on 20 shots against Washington on Jan. 31 before being pulled for Alex Lyon in the middle of the third period. He anticipated well and maintained his concentration during stretches where he was being bombarded with shots.

Still, Neuvirth is not known for his consistency. If Elliott’s absence is extended, it will be interesting to see how long a leash Hakstol gives Neuvirth if he has an off night. That obviously won’t be an issue if Neuvirth continues to play as well as he did Sunday.

• After a quick weekend road trip, the Flyers return home to face the Devils on Tuesday. The Flyers have taken two of their three meetings against New Jersey this season.

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

AP Images

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.