Flyers

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers (3-2-0) vs. Panthers (2-2-0)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
 
Did the Flyers save any goals for the rest of the five-game homestand?
 
That's probably what many are asking after watching the 8-2 demolition they put on the Washington Capitals in Saturday night's home opener.
 
The Flyers will try to keep things rolling Tuesday night when they welcome the Florida Panthers to the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Here are some thoughts before Game 6 of the season:
 
• You couldn't ask for much more from the Flyers' top line against the Capitals. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek downright manhandled Washington. When Giroux moved to the left wing and Sean Couturier bumped up to first-line center, Saturday's performance was likely the dream scenario in the minds of the Flyers' coaching staff and front office.
 
It seemed like Voracek was making a play every time he touched the puck, Couturier did yeoman's work in all phases, and Giroux looked like his old self, showing a little bit of everything in his arsenal. The trio combined for 10 points on four goals and six assists. No one is expecting such production on a game-by-game basis, but let's see if this group can sustain these positive vibes and turn itself into a staple up top. As evidenced by Saturday, the Flyers go to a different level when those three are on.
 
• No one wants to see Travis Sanheim sitting. He's a first-round pick the fan base has been eager to see. He has great size and offensive upside for a defenseman. It will be exciting to watch him become a pillar of the Flyers' blue line.
 
But is it really the end of the world if Brandon Manning plays a couple games here in the early going? Manning will suit up Tuesday for his second straight game in place of Sanheim (more here from morning skate). The 21-year-old rookie won't be in the press box for long, though, because that doesn't jive with general manager Ron Hextall's development plan. So Sanheim will sit for a few, watch and learn. That's not too terrible.
 
And, the two games Manning has played so far (season opener and home opener), the Flyers won both by a combined score of 13-5. Was he the most critical reason why? No, but he didn't hurt the Flyers, either. Keeping your projected seventh defenseman somewhat active is a good idea for when/if he is needed.
 
Sanheim will be fine and he will play.
 
We're about to be only six games in here … let's just give this some time.
 
• Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said he planned on using both of his goalies over this homestand. Michal Neuvirth will get the call against the Panthers after Brian Elliott started four of the first five games. Neuvirth looks like the clear backup, but it's important to get him starts, and that's what Hakstol plans on doing.
 
Neuvirth didn't see Florida last season. However, he did see the Panthers in 2015-16 and was terrific, delivering a shutout, 1.59 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in two games. He hasn't seen game action since Oct. 5.
 
• Wayne Simmonds, who has been a stud so far with five goals in five games, did work against Florida last season, posting three goals and an assist in three games.
 
• The Panthers are good. They've scored 16 goals through their first four games, all tough tests against the Lightning twice, the Blues and the Penguins. Florida boasts some nice, young talent in center Jonathan Huberdeau (three goals, two assists), center Aleksander Barkov (three assists) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (two goals, two assists), just to name some.
 
To add to it, Florida's first-round pick at 10th overall this past summer, Owen Tippett, will make his NHL debut tonight. The 18-year-old scored 44 goals in 60 junior games last season for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads.
 
• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:
 
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
 
Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
 
Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim. 

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Friday night for Game 5 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-1)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia; Pregame Live at 6 p.m.

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups (without Sean Couturier; more on him here)

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Jori-Lehtera-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Sean Couturier (injured), Taylor Leier and Dale Weise; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Penguins
Forwards
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensemen
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Patric Hornqvist (injured), Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Flyers' energy level
The Penguins would love nothing more than to close out the series on home ice and rest up as they await the winner of the Capitals-Blue Jackets series. Sometimes that can force a team with a chance to close out a series to take its foot off the gas ever so slightly. The crowd at PPG Paints Arena will be roaring and the key for the Flyers is to survive the initial first 10 minutes of the opening period as the Penguins will come out strong in attack mode. Falling behind early could lead to the Flyers accepting their fate and the Penguins closing out the series in five games. 

Bold prediction: The Flyers will extend the series to a Game 6. They have performed admirably in closeout games when facing elimination. Claude Giroux stuck out his neck a little bit when he told reporters “we’ll be back for Game 6.” Giroux’s made similar statements not regarded as bold guarantees, but he usually backs up his words and doesn’t back down from a challenge. The captain also held a brief meeting with teammates on the ice Thursday near the conclusion of practice. A handful of the Flyers can recall falling down to the Capitals 3-0 in 2015-16 before the Flyers rallied to win the next two games before losing, 1-0, in Game 6. We should see a much more defensive-minded effort similar to Game 2.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on: 
Robert Hagg
We have a pretty good feel for how this game will go. Brandon Manning will fall a few times, turn it over a bunch. The Pens will be all over the Flyers. The only thing we don't know is how Hagg plays in his first career playoff game. Should have been sooner, much, much sooner. Should have been Manning who came out and not Travis Sanheim. Anyways, how does Hagg fare against the big, bad Penguins?

Bold prediction: "It's Close Until It Isn't." Mothers, a four-piece indie rock band from Athens, Georgia, has a song titled "It Hurts Until It Doesn't." Pretty accurate description of these Flyers right now. It hurts until you realize they were never really in it. Then comes acceptance. Tonight will be close until it isn't. Pittsburgh blows this open in the second period and series over.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Which team scores first
If the Penguins take an early 1-0 lead, it will be a death blow to these Flyers. They've been dreadful at recovering from Pittsburgh goals, showing no ability to redirect momentum. Given how this series has transpired, the Penguins striking first might crush any confidence the Flyers have left in the tank. However, if the Flyers can jump out with a statement, the belief that this series can meet a Game 6 in Philadelphia will only grow.

Bold prediction: Sidney Crosby lights the lamp first, matching the Flyers' goal output for the series and signaling the unofficial end of the first-round matchup. Crosby's been so darn good this series that it seems only fitting he gets things started in front of the home crowd. The Flyers will score but Crosby's tone-setting marker will be the beginning of the end for the 2017-18 Flyers.

Recommended reading
• Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

• What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

• Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

• Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

PITTSBURGH — With general manager Ron Hextall looking on from the tunnel to the bench, Sean Couturier took faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere during Friday’s morning skate. 

Putting pressure on his injured right leg while gaining leverage in the faceoff circle was part of determining the pain tolerance and whether Couturier could play in Game 5 against the Penguins.

“I don’t know. Trying to get a test but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs,” Couturier said rather jokingly. “It was kinda tough to test it out. I was just trying to simulate game situations.”

Of course, morning skates are nothing resembling the speed and intensity of a playoff game, but Friday marked the third straight day Couturier has skated.

“I felt pretty good. I felt better than yesterday,” Couturier said. “Still hoping. I guess I’ll take warm-ups and see how that goes. More movement, more skating than the last two times. It was a good day. It’s one thing to play but you’ve got to be able to help the team as well.”

Two years ago, playing without Couturier, the Flyers fought off elimination twice in their six-game series against the Capitals after falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series. Head coach Dave Hakstol believes that experience is something the veterans can impart on the younger, more experienced Flyers.

“This is a very different team — a lot of different personnel,” Hakstol said. “There were some guys that were part of that series, and some other guys who have different playoff experiences. So, I think you draw off your veterans’ experience.”

Historically, the Flyers have succumbed to the opponent when trailing 3-1 in a seven-game series with a 1-16 record when facing elimination entering Game 5. The only exception came during the Flyers remarkable 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

At this point, Hakstol doesn’t feel the need to motivate by stressing the importance of a must-win game. 

“We didn’t do a whole lot of talking yesterday,” Hakstol said. “We went out and had a good practice and took 24 hours as we traveled here to Pittsburgh. We talked a little bit in the morning just to get our focus in place. For the most part, we know where we’re at, so there’s no need to go into a bunch of clichés.”

Interestingly, Hakstol would not confirm his starting goaltender, but Brian Elliott is expected to make his seventh straight start despite a 4.75 goals against with a .856 save percentage in the first five games. Elliott, who was not on the ice for the morning skate, was stretching and going through his typical game-day rituals.

“We need a big performance from our goalie, yes, that’s fair to say,” said Hextall. “We’re going into their building and they’re going to be hungry, so we need a big performance from our goalie.”