Flyers

Flyers Notes: MacDonald's injury putting Flyers in tough spot

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Flyers Notes: MacDonald's injury putting Flyers in tough spot

TORONTO — This can’t be the Andrew MacDonald effect, can it?

Eleven goals surrendered over the past two games.

Prior to MacDonald’s injury, head coach Dave Hakstol had his defense pairings configured to specifications. Ivan Provorov with MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg along with Travis Sanheim and Brandon Manning splitting time with Radko Gudas.

Whether it's MacDonald's absence or just poor play, something has gone awry. Ever since Tuesday’s game against the Ducks, Hakstol has been furiously trying to find the right combinations so the Flyers can resume normalcy on their blue line.

“As soon as Mac goes out, jumble, jumble” general manager Ron Hextall said. “We always go through preseason trying to figure out what our lines are and what our defense pairings are, and it’s hard. It’s hard, you only have eight games, and you don’t get a great feel. Two games ago, we didn’t have a very good game. Was it your pairs or was it one of those games? 

“You hope we correct it right away, and guys get familiar with each other, but a lot of these guys haven’t played together much and that’s the reality. There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no excuses, that’s for damn sure, but Thursday night toward the end, they looked like they felt comfortable together so we’ll see.”  

One of the biggest changes that came out of Thursday’s game in Ottawa was the Provorov-Gostisbehere pairing, where the two players switched sides periodically to take advantage of their offensive instincts and awareness.

“I think Ghost and I see the game similar, definitely on the offensive side,” Provorov said. “It was easy to play with the puck to do all those switches and passes, finding each other in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone. We’ll try and continue to get better and see what happens.”  

Losing the shield
For tonight’s game in Toronto, Wayne Simmonds will finally ditch the extended face shield that has protected the lower part of his face, most notably his dental work after losing teeth after taking a stick to the face in a game against the Predators. Simmonds says breathing had been an issue and the shield has a tendency to fog up, which has impaired his vision when looking down at the puck. 

Simmonds is hoping it will improve his concentration and focus as the Flyers' second line was arguably one of the team’s worst in Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Senators in Ottawa. 

“We’ve got to be better,” Simmonds said. “I think over the past few games, (Jordan) Weal was out for a couple and he got back in and our chemistry was a little bit off. We just got to find a way to get it back. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

No suspension for Gudas
As expected, the NHL did not hand down supplemental discipline Friday against Gudas for his check on Ottawa defenseman Chris Wideman. Gudas was slapped with a five-minute major for charging, and with that, a 10-minute misconduct for a hit that appeared to be rather routine.

“Radko hits hard. He hits as hard as anybody in the league,” Hextall said. “His hits are impact hits. If one of our other 17 skaters makes that hit (Thursday) night nothing comes of it. Exact same hit, exact same body position, everything. It’s just that Radko is so strong that his hits make an impact, and at times, it’s not fair.” 

Knowing Babcock
A typical Maple Leafs practice day doesn’t usually make headlines within the Toronto media, but Friday’s intense but abbreviated workout was unusual coming off a lethargic 6-3 loss Thursday night to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite the Leafs' 7-3-0 record, Babcock put his team through an intense, hard-skating 24-minute session and then ordered every player off the ice in a move to help them conserve their energy for tonight’s game against the Flyers. No Flyer is more familiar with Babcock’s motivations than center Valtteri Filppula, a 2002 third-round pick who played in Detroit under Babcock from 2005-13.

“I think he’s really good with details,” Filppula said. “He gets the guys to play the system really well. Obviously, he’s had some good players too, and you always need that to be a good coach, but I think he prepares the team really well and I think that’s his strongest suit.”

Projected lines & pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Filppula-Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Provorov-Gostisbehere
Sanheim-Gudas
Manning-Hagg

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth 

Flyers exorcise some demons thanks to Sean Couturier

Flyers exorcise some demons thanks to Sean Couturier

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The losing streak at Nationwide Arena is finally over.

After 11 straight losses on Columbus’ home ice, the Flyers added a pair of crucial points in the standings Friday behind Sean Couturier’s overtime game-winner for a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets (see observations).

“It’s been a long time,” said Wayne Simmonds, who opened the scoring with a tip-in goal in the second period. “I’ve been here for seven years; that feels like an eternity, but I felt we had a strong team effort tonight and the boys showed up.”

Although the outcome in Columbus favored the orange and black for the first time since Dec. 13, 2005, Friday night’s divisional contest didn’t veer too far out of the ordinary. Nemesis Sergei Bobrovsky (24-18-5) made his seventh home start against his former team, and was once again stellar, stopping 23 of the Flyers’ 25 shots.

The two-time Vezina Trophy winner put on a magic show, starting in the first period with acrobatic saves against Jordan Weal, Couturier and Claude Giroux.

“He’s a good goalie,” Simmonds said. “You've just got to keep shooting and second opportunities, third opportunities — he doesn’t give up very many goals, and I thought Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) played just as well, if even better.”

As the default starter with Brian Ellliott on injured reserve, Neuvirth (8-7-3) was outstanding, earning the team’s Ric Flair robe. With Columbus coming off of three consecutive outings of firing 50 or more shots on goal, the 29-year-old goalie faced a barrage of shots, stopping 35 of 36 en route to his eighth win of the season.

“I felt pretty good; I feel confident,” Neuvirth said. “Obviously, [it was a] great team effort. The guys played unbelievable in front of me and I was seeing the puck well. It was a good two points.”

After letting Tuesday night’s game against New Jersey slip away in a 5-4 shootout loss, the rare pair of points in Columbus were crucial for Dave Hakstol’s team to stay ahead of the Devils, who won for the second consecutive time with a 5-2 win on Thursday (see standings).

Adding to the familiarity to the feel of a showdown in Ohio’s capital, the contest remained a one-goal game from Simmonds’ tally in the second to Cam Atkinson’s equalizer at the 16:32 mark of the third.

“Both goaltenders played really well tonight,” Hakstol said. “It was a tight, grinding game; there were some great opportunities [in] both directions. I think both teams made enough plays for it to be more than a 1-1 game, but both goaltenders were really good. We’re more and more comfortable in these games. We’ve won a lot of these games and that’s a lot of credit to our guys just staying with it.”

In addition to yet another one-goal game between these two teams, Friday’s tilt marked the seventh time in the last 13 meetings that a game was decided in overtime. Despite some trends between these teams remaining true, however, the Flyers were able to buck a few trends, as well. Couturier’s game-winner not only added to his team-leading goal total in a career year (29), it was also just the fifth overtime blemish for the Blue Jackets all season (12-5). The result was also Bobrovsky’s first home loss against the orange and black (6-0-1), and just his third overall career loss against the team with which he debuted.

“You never want give up a late goal like that, especially two games in a row,” Couturier said of Atkinson’s overtime-inducing goal. “But the key is we focused on what was next, and we came back hard and battled and got that extra point, and that’s what matters.”

Couturier’s impact was felt in Friday night’s game, much as it’s been all year. The first-line center made life difficult for Bobrovsky in attacking the net and dishing out creative centering passes. The 25-year-old is now one goal away from doubling his previous career-high mark (15), while matching linemate Giroux for the team lead in ice time for forwards (20:30).

The redeeming win in Columbus may have been exactly what the Flyers needed, but they’ll have only a day to enjoy it. The orange and black are back in action on Sunday as they travel to the Big Apple to square off against the New York Rangers in what will be the start of a five-game stretch in nine days that will include their third meeting against the Blue Jackets.

Depending on how the stretch run turns out, the Flyers very well could point to getting the proverbial monkey off their back at Nationwide Arena on Friday night as the start of something special.

Greiss catches Islanders' goalie wave

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Greiss catches Islanders' goalie wave

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Thomas Greiss stopped 44 shots for his first shutout of the season, and the New York Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Friday night.

Johnny Boychuk, Anthony Beauvillier and John Tavares scored for the Islanders, who moved past the Hurricanes into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Greiss got his eighth career shutout one night after Jaroslav Halak had 50 saves in a 3-0 home win against the crosstown-rival Rangers.

Cam Ward finished with 20 saves for the Hurricanes, who lost their second straight and fell into a tie with Columbus one point behind the Islanders for the conference's last playoff spot.

Jeff Skinner had his game-tying goal in the third period waved off after a replay review ruled he was offside when he entered the zone. Carolina failed to get a better scoring chance the rest of the night despite getting nearly twice as many shots as the Islanders (see full recap).

Wheeler, Scheifele help Jets rout Avalanche
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Blake Wheeler had two goals and assists and Mark Scheifele assisted on three goals as the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Colorado Avalanche 6-1 on Friday night.

Wheeler ended a 15-game goal drought and Scheifele now has seven points in his last three games.

Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg, which is 5-2-1 during its 10-game homestand. Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers each had two assists and Laine added one.

Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves to pick up his 30th win of the season. It was the most wins by a Jets goalie since the franchise moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season. Ondrej Pavelec had 29 wins the first season.

Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen nixed Hellebuyck's shutout bid when he scored unassisted on a wraparound with 5:56 left in the third period.

Colorado goalie Jonathan Bernier was pulled following the second period after Winnipeg went up 4-0 on 20 shots. Semyon Varlamov stopped six of the eight shots he faced in relief for the Avalanche (see full recap).

Bishop, Stars hold off Blues to make division move
DALLAS -- Ben Bishop stopped 27 shots and the Dallas Stars held on to beat St. Louis 2-1 on Friday night, moving past the Blues into third place in the Central Division.

Mattias Janmark and Stephen Johns scored for Dallas, which had a season-low 16 shots on goal while winning for the sixth time in seven games. The Stars, who had not been this high in the standings since Nov. 5, are tied with the Blues with 72 points, but have two games in hand.

Brayden Schenn spoiled Bishop's shutout bid with a power-play goal with 1:14 remaining, and Jake Allen finished with 14 saves for St. Louis. The Blues have lost three straight (0-2-1).

Neither team scored in the first period, when the Blues outshot Dallas 8-3. St. Louis failed to score on two power plays, and the Stars were unsuccessful on their only man-advantage of the period.

Janmark scored on the power play at 2:42 of the second, getting his 16th of the season to top his total from his rookie season two years ago. It was also his fourth on power-play goal of the season.

Bishop preserved the Stars' lead early in the third as he turned away Schenn's backhand attempt in front of the net (see full recap).