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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Claude Giroux carving out hybrid role

VOORHEES, N.J. — Four games into the 2017-17 season, Flyers captain Claude Giroux acknowledged Friday he is still adapting to his move from center to left wing.

“I enjoy both,” Giroux said. “I enjoy playing hockey. It’s definitely a different game on the left side.”

Now centered by Sean Couturier, with Jakub Voracek on the right side, the Giroux line has certainly had its moments. But those chances haven’t necessarily manifested in a flurry of goals for the Flyers.

Giroux, Couturier and Voracek have totaled two goals and five assists in 5-on-5 situations, while the captain himself has one goal and one assist at even strength.

“I’m still getting adjusted here and just trying to stay in the system and be able to play my game, but I feel like our line, we have more to give,” Giroux said. “Five-on-five, we’re generating some good offense, but we can definitely do more.”

While the switch hasn’t sparked an immediate explosion of scoring for the Flyers’ top line, Giroux isn’t clamoring for a change back. As the 29-year-old veteran notes, he still takes plenty of faceoffs — a team-high 61 — and handles a lot of center responsibilities.

It’s a hybrid role, essentially.

“When we go back in our zone, if I’m the first one back, I’ll be playing low, so I do get some shifts playing center,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I miss it.”

One doesn’t have to watch very hard to see the chemistry developing between Giroux and his linemates. It may be only a matter of time before the experiment pays off and the unit starts to find the back of the net with regularity.

A successful trip in more ways than one
After a four-game road trip to kick off the season, the Flyers are looking forward to finally opening the Wells Fargo Center against the Capitals on Saturday night. However, as several players noted, getting their annual California tour out of the way early has its advantages, too.

“To start off the year in the middle of a long road trip is not the worst thing in the world,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s probably tougher later in the season to go out there and win games like that.”

The Flyers took two of three off the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, sometimes referred to as the “Triangle of Death” when played in succession. They followed that up with a hard-fought regulation loss in Nashville at the hands of the Predators — a missed opportunity, for sure, although a 2-2 start on the road is nothing to complain about.

It was a valuable four points for the Flyers, although there was more to the trip than that. It also served as a bonding experience for a team that has four rookies and several new faces.

“Having so many young guys and new faces in the locker room, that helped build team chemistry and to get know the guys a little better,” rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim said.

In many ways, it was a more successful trip than the standings might let on. At the same time, while there were numerous positives to take away from the Flyers’ start, there’s no question they could also use a little home cooking.

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” Giroux said. “Coming home is definitely a boost.”

Ovechkin’s torrid start
While the Flyers are happy to be home, they won’t exactly be easing into their Wells Fargo Center slate. With a 2-1-1 record, the Capitals are off to a good start as well, with the hottest player in the NHL leading the way.

Alexander Ovechkin already has eight goals in Washington’s first four games, including three in the opener, followed by four in the encore. Lighting the lamp is nothing new for Ovechkin — he’s led the league in goals six times in his career — but even by his standards, his early-season performance has been downright scary.

“He’s that kind of player that when he gets hot, he gets hot, and right now it looks like everything he touches goes in,” Giroux said. “That’s why he’s been such a dominant player all his career. When he’s got a chance to score, he puts it in.”

Ovechkin is coming off something of a down season in 2016-17, finishing with 33 goals — his fewest in an 82-game campaign since the 2010-11 season. Looks like it’s safe to say he’s snapped out of it.

There’s no secret formula for stopping Ovechkin, either. The best way to keep to him from scoring is to simply avoid giving him anything easy.

“Don’t turn pucks over,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. “That’s when they hurt you. They have a lot of offensive firepower on that team.”

The Capitals are also the Flyers’ first Metropolitan Division opponent of the season, and their last for awhile. They don’t face another division opponent until they visit the Islanders on Nov. 22, a whole 16 games later.

“I think any time we play a team that’s in our division, it’s a pretty intense game,” Giroux said. “They’re fun to play, especially a home opener.

“They’ll be coming in hot, so we have to be ready.”

Flyers blitzed by Canucks as losing skid extends to 5 straight games

Flyers blitzed by Canucks as losing skid extends to 5 straight games

BOX SCORE

There were so many mistakes to be found in the Flyers’ 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night that head coach Dave Hakstol surprisingly admitted even he could have done things differently by pulling Michal Neuvirth after the goalie gave up a third goal in the opening minutes of the second period.

“That one was on me,” Hakstol said. “I should have done that after the third goal to give our team the best opportunity. Once it got to four (4-1), it’s tough to dig out of that hole. The change after three may have been the spark that our team would have needed, but hindsight is 20/20.”

Starting for the first time in 17 days, Neuvirth was pulled with 5:20 remaining in the second period after making 18 of 22 stops. He wasn’t nearly a sharp as he’s been in his previous outings.

“Obviously, I need to be better than I showed today,” Neuvirth said. “It was difficult not skating. I had three days off over the weekend and I had one practice (Monday), so it was difficult. I need to be better.”

With Radko Gudas serving the second game of a 10-game suspension, the Flyers turned in one of the worst defensive games of the season as they allowed the Canucks a handful of prime opportunities based on turnovers, missed assignments and even a poor line change (see observations).

“We had a tough time starting in the neutral zone,” Jake Voracek said. “A couple of times, the defense tried to skate it through. We just didn’t generate enough speed. On the odd-man rush we had a couple of good looks in the second [period]. It is always more open in the second.”

The pairing of Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere had an especially tough time and it started when Daniel Sedin snuck behind Gostisbehere for an early, first-period breakaway goal.

“That first goal is probably preventable,” Manning said. “Me and Ghost talked about it and we can probably sniff that one out a little bit better. The second one is tough with the young guys trying to get off for a matchup.”

Canucks leading scorer Brock Boeser capitalized on a bad change from the Flyers’ defense when he rifled the first of his two goals far post over Neuvirth’s blocker.

“We gave up two easy goals that we didn’t make our opponent work for,” Hakstol said. “You’ve got to have one defenseman out there. You can’t have two D going. That’s the reality of it.”

“It’s just little details that are costing us games right now, and I think the PK needs to be better,” Sean Couturier said. “On the defensive side, we need to be sharper. Little details, whether that’s picking up your guy or chipping it out or line change. It’s all those little things that add up.” 

For a team that has been in every game at some point of the third period this season, that simply was not the case Tuesday night. Forward Wayne Simmonds admitted some bad habits are creeping into the Flyers’ game.

“I would agree with that,” Simmonds said. “We have to find a way to break those habits. We have to find a way to get a win here, no matter what it takes. We can’t be leaving them for 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s, 3-on-2s or whatever it may be. That’s going to hurt and it did.”

After winning their season opener in San Jose, the Flyers’ abysmal record against the Western Conference dropped to 5-8-4. They’re currently the only team in the Metropolitan Division with more regulation losses than regulation wins. 

“You’ve got to own it,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got to do better. You can’t sit back and rest on a lack of confidence. You give yourself confidence by preparation, work ethic, togetherness and those are things we have to put back into our game tomorrow night.” 

On Wednesday, the Flyers will travel to Brooklyn to face the Islanders for just the second divisional game of the season after blowing out the Washington Capitals, 8-2, in the home opener at the Wells Fargo Center.

Changes coming?
While the rest of the team loaded up for Wednesday night’s game on Long Island, Flyers defenseman Mark Alt took his equipment with him as he’ll rejoin the Phantoms. With Matt Read clearing waivers, general manager Ron Hextall could quite possibly make a couple of call-ups from Lehigh Valley.

“You evaluate everything on a daily basis depending on what happens,” Hextall  said. “You just don’t know. Someone gets hurt, we just can’t put them on IR. We need the flexibility for tomorrow.”

Don’t expect defenseman Andrew MacDonald to be available until Friday at the earliest. MacDonald’s skating still isn’t 100 percent even though he has practiced with the team since last Thursday. 

“It’s kind of a progression thing and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll see how he progresses,” Hextall said.

Flyers-Canucks observations: Losing streak reaches 5 straight

Flyers-Canucks observations: Losing streak reaches 5 straight

BOX SCORE

The last-place Flyers continue to lose ground in the Metropolitan Division as they suffered a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday. The loss was their fifth in a row and sixth in their last seven home games. 

The Canucks' leading scorer, rookie Brock Boeser, scored twice as Vancouver ripped off four unanswered goals after falling behind, 1-0.

Making his first start in 17 days, Michal Neuvirth surrendered four goals and was pulled at the 14:40 mark of the second period in favor of Brian Elliott. Elliott stopped all 13 shots he faced.

Vancouver’s power play was 2 for 3 as the Flyers have allowed five power-play goals over their last two games.

The Flyers’ record (8-9-4) dipped below the .500 mark for the first time this season. 

• From just inside the left circle, Jakub Voracek ripped home a big shot that beat Jacob Markstrom glove side high in the third period. That seemed to wake up the Flyers, who had been sleepwalking through the previous 30 minutes.

• Dave Hakstol elected to switch up his second and third lines, pairing Michael Raffl with Nolan Patrick and Wayne Simmonds.

• The Flyers had another defensive breakdown, which led to a Canucks’ 2-on-1 opportunity. Robert Hagg stepped up to deliver a hit on Sven Baertschi, which allowed the Canucks to break out of their zone — a real problem area throughout this game.

• Travis Sanheim was called for a very minor slashing penalty during the second period, but anything with a stick near the hands will be called.

• On Vancouver’s power play in the second, the Canucks had a clean entry over the blue line after Taylor Leier had a shorthanded chance. Once again, the Sedin brothers teamed up. Brandon Manning stepped up in coverage, which allowed Boeser to slide into the slot unguarded and score an uncontested shot that Neuvirth had no shot to stop.

• The Flyers were actually outshooting the Canucks 6½ minutes into the second period, 24-12. Yet they trailed in the game, 3-1. Once again, the Canucks’ quality superseded the Flyers’ quantity of shots.  

• Not sure what Valtteri Filppula was looking for on the Flyers’ first power play of the second period as he flipped the puck out to the point with nobody home. That gave the Canucks a shorthanded chance.

• The Canucks extended their lead to 4-1 with their fourth straight goal. Neuvirth failed to corral a somewhat easy rebound and allowed Baertschi to bat in the puck out of midair. At that point, Hakstol elected to replace Neuvirth with Elliott.

• Voracek had his second breakaway opportunity in the final period. This time, he cut back into the middle of the ice but he couldn’t finish the play as the Canucks’ defensemen tied him up.     

• Now that Raffl was moved off the fourth line, the unit doesn’t possess the same speed with Jori Lehtera at right wing. However, the line had good pressure early on in the game.

• Voracek seems to have more east-west speed with the puck than he does moving north-south. He didn’t quite have the burst on a potential breakaway as Canucks defenseman Alex Biega caught up with him and denied him of a quality scoring chance.

• The Flyers won 68 percent of their first period faceoffs. The biggest one came when Filppula won the draw in the offensive zone and allowed Ivan Provorov to make a move and throw the puck on net. The puck deflected off the right arm of Biega and past goalie Markstrom for the Flyers’ only goal of the first period.

• I just don’t like Shayne Gostisbehere’s game over the past few weeks. Obviously, his lack of discipline cost the Flyers a potential win against the Flames, and he allowed Daniel Sedin to get behind him on Vancouver’s first goal. Credit Henrik Sedin, who threaded a one-handed pass to his brother that allowed Daniel Sedin to make a move on Neuvirth. The Flyers’ netminder had it covered but the puck hit the post, deflected off Neuvirth and rolled past the goal line.

• Earlier in the first period, “Ghost” lost track of Markus Granlund, who separated himself from the coverage and got off a shot to Neuvirth’s right. Gostisbehere looks like a different player depending which side of the ice he’s on. He’s obviously much more confident in the offensive zone, where he blasted a point shot off the post.

• The Flyers had a neutral zone turnover, were also on a defensive change and failed to get the puck deep when the Canucks scored their second goal just 19 seconds after their first one. Boeser took a big slap from the right circle that beat Neuvirth blocker side. Neuvirth appeared to be slightly off his angle.

• A solid opening minute from the Flyers’ first power-play unit that generated three shots on net. It appeared as if Simmonds took a crosscheck in the back on a Gostisbehere slap shot as he couldn’t locate the rebound. 

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Dale Weise and Matt Read (healthy), and defenseman Radko Gudas (suspended).