Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

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Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

Of all the headliners that can be found on the Vegas strip, who would have imagined the Golden Knights, in their expansion year, would be right up there with Cirque du Soleil, Inferno and Chris Angel?

They shoot, they score, they entertain, and most impressively, they win. Only Tampa Bay averages more goals per game than Vegas does this season.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant has performed a miracle that’s one part Herb Brooks, another part David Copperfield.

How can a coach bring together a collection of castoffs from across the league and build not just the best expansion team in league history, but one of the top hockey teams in the entire NHL, all while playing an uptempo, fan-friendly system?

“That’s a good question,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. “They’re just skating very well, all of them. Obviously it’s hard to play against someone that’s skating so well.”

When these two teams played for the first time in Las Vegas in early February, the Flyers found out firsthand as they were outshot 39-18, the most lopsided shot total of any game this season, but were opportunistic in a 4-1 win.

Under Gallant, the Golden Knights have developed into one of the quickest puck-moving teams in the league and are constantly on the attack. Sean Couturier doesn’t believe there’s another team in the league that plays that style as well as Vegas does.

“I don’t think so,” Couturier said. “Not as good as they do. I think a lot of teams try and play like they do — spread the offensive zone, cycle the puck, control the play and get defenders out of position, but they’re really good at it.”

So if it works for the Golden Knights, why couldn’t the Flyers adopt a similar system?

For starters, Vegas general manager George McPhee was able to handpick his entire roster from a list of unprotected players — good players, at that. So if speed, puck control and skating ability were key attributes, then McPhee had the luxury of assembling that type of roster.

“What stands out when you watch them and when you play against them? Their speed presents a real challenge,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, whose team has 81 points, good for third in the Metro behind Pittsburgh (84) and Washington (83), and three points ahead of New Jersey (78). Washington hosts Winnipeg Monday night.

“You have to be ready to defend that and you have to be ready to counterattack against it.”

Secondly, the Golden Knights possess balance with no real “star power.” For most of this season, every line that Gallant has assembled has had to prove it's worthy of ice time, including the current top line of leading goal-scorer William Karlsson (35 goals) at center and Jonathan Marchessault (22 goals) and recent pickup Tomas Tatar (17 goals), formerly of the Red Wings. That trio has combined 74 goals on the season. The Knights also have 20-goal scorers in Erik Haula (24), James Neal (24) and Riley Smith (22).

“The biggest part of it is to have 23 players here, all kinda misfits who were left unprotected. So when they came with a simple system, it has to be 20 guys every night. You can’t have one line hot and the other three coasting,” said former Flyers forward Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, whom Vegas plucked in the expansion draft last summer. “[Gallant] played the guys who were working the hardest, and that was the indicator for the other guys, it doesn’t matter who your name is.”

Which probably wouldn’t work for Hakstol if Voracek, Couturier or Claude Giroux didn’t exactly bring their best effort every game. Gallant has been dealing from the same deck all season, a “use-it-or-lose-it” philosophy, you could say.

Impressively, it’s the same approach Gallant took with the Summerside Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League back in the mid-1990s.

“The way I coach is the same I coached in junior hockey,” Gallant said. “Come to the rink, have fun, work hard and be competitive. I don’t prepare my team much differently than anyone else does. For me, it’s having fun and having a good attitude and make sure your players are ready to play.”

Proof what happens in Vegas certainly shouldn’t stay there.

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington

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Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington


A three-goal second period highlighted by Oskar Lindblom's first career NHL goal propelled the Flyers past the Capitals, 6-3, Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Lindblom's first career goal came one night after picking up his first NHL point, an assist in Carolina.

The Flyers have regained their scoring touch with 13 goals over their last three games after managing just 11 in the five previous games.

Claude Giroux picked up an assist, tying him with Eric Lindros for fifth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.

Petr Mrazek stopped 25 shots, winning his fifth game since joining the Flyers. If the Flyers reach the postseason, then the conditional pick to Detroit would become a third-round selection.

In a potential first-round playoff preview, the Flyers won their season series against the Capitals, improving to 3-1-0.

• The Flyers struck first after winning a key offensive-zone faceoff. Giroux pushed the puck behind him to Shayne Gostisbehere, who ripped a perfectly placed slapper about two feet off the ice, forcing Philipp Grubauer to change the angle of his glove.

• Alex Ovechkin can sneak up on you at a moment’s notice and he doesn’t always need to uncork that 100-mph slap shot as evidenced by his 43rd goal of the season. Ovechkin snuck behind the Flyers' defense and redirected a puck past Mrazek. It was just his second goal in his last eight games against the Flyers, and he was unnoticeable until that moment.

• The Flyers quickly responded just 3 minutes, 11 seconds after Ovechkin's goal. In his 14th game, Lindblom ripped a shot high blocker side from the right circle. Credit Lindblom for applying a good forecheck that led to Michal Kempny’s errant pass that led to a 2-1 Flyers lead.

“The kid is getting some confidence right now and you can really tell,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s really going and Jake’s (Voracek) been really building him up there.”

• Interesting to see rookie Robert Hagg paired with Radko Gudas in his first game back from injury. I expected Hagg to be back with Andrew MacDonald, who he’s been with for much of the season. For the most part, Hagg looked good with Gudas, although he pinched and no forward picked him up on the back side leading to another Capitals odd-man rush. 

• Sean Couturier can’t buy a goal right now. He’s been stuck on 29 goals for over a month and he had a pair of prime chances in the same sequence Sunday. His first attempt came on a backhand pass from MacDonald that he tried to slide under Grubauer’s five hole. However, over the past three games he’s been contributing offensively with an assist in all three games. I feel it’s only a matter of time before Couturier gets No. 30.   

• The Flyers' three-goal second period was one of the best all around 20 minutes in a while. Constant pressure offensively with a flurry of prime scoring chances. They were also able to eliminate some of the defensive breakdowns from the first period as Mrazek didn’t have to produce any top-notch saves.

• Coming off a disappointing game in Carolina, Gostisbehere was bumped off the puck at the Caps' blue line and as he stumbled to the ice, it led to a 3-on-2 and a nice sprawling save from Mrazek to keep the game scoreless. If you’ve watched him closely, Ghost’s performance has dipped a little over the past several games.

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort


RALEIGH, N.C. – Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol commended his team for a complete 60-minute effort that was needed to overtake and defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at PNC Arena on Saturday night (see observations).

“It’s an important two points, but I guess, as important I thought it was a really hard-working, start-to-finish win for us,” he said.

Placing Alex Lyon in net to lead from the back end, the young netminder made 23 stops, many critical, that allowed the Flyers to generate momentum to strike all at once in the third period.

Trailing 1-0, containing the Hurricanes’ speed and ability to maintain puck possession was a priority – somewhat of ‘survive and advance’ mindset to have in March.

The Flyers won 27 of 48 draws, a stat that eventually evened out, but was a critical one that the Flyers led in for two periods, before taking advantage of Carolina turnovers in the third.

 “It was a grind,” Hakstol said. “I liked the way we played in the first two periods. We talked about a couple of little things we can maybe improve going into the third, but the biggest thing was making sure we went out and got a big penalty kill to start with and just go back at it.”

For 40 minutes, Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward stymied shooters like Jakub Voracek and crease cleaners like Wayne Simmonds, among others, but the force of the shield he presented eventually diminished late in the game. The Flyers scored all four of their goals in the final 11-plus minutes.

While giving the puck away 10 times, 15 takeaways allowed the Flyers to regain possessions and capitalize on their chances when it counted most. 

“I don’t know if there was a catalyst,” Hakstol said when asked to identify the turning point in the game for his team.

“A lot of times it’s the simple, hard things that you do. That’s what it takes to score at this time of year.”

The win pulled the Flyers back into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a floating buoy line extending to the wild-card spot they will tread beside for the remainder of the season, unless they can compile more wins like this one.

“We needed a win for a lot of different reasons,” Hakstol said. “We needed the two points in every respect, but we needed a win for our group in here to have something to show for their hard work. When you lose games and can’t put wins together, the negatives really start to magnify, even though there’s a ton of positives. On a couple of different levels, this was an important two points.”