Flyers-Penguins observations: Skid reaches 8 with loss to rival

Flyers-Penguins observations: Skid reaches 8 with loss to rival


PITTSBURGH — The Flyers’ season and story seems to rewrite itself on a nightly basis.

Flyers killer Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner just after Pittsburgh’s power play had expired to give the Penguins a 5-4 overtime victory Monday and extend the orange and black’s losing streak to eight games.

Prior to Michael Raffl’s go-ahead goal with 3:41 remaining, Pittsburgh erased the Flyers’ 3-1 lead with two quick goals in the first 1:46 of the third period.

Jake Guentzel scored his second goal of the game with 1:04 left that tied the contest at 4-4 to force overtime.

It was the fourth time in the Flyers’ last six games they had squandered a two-goal lead.

Travis Konecny scored his first goal in 14 games, which gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the second period. Sean Couturier added his 14th goal of the season in the final minute of the second period.

Brian Elliott made a career-high 47 saves.

• Here’s a matchup Dave Hakstol wants to avoid: Crosby in the corner against Shayne Gostisbehere. Twice the two players battled along the boards in the first period and twice Crosby found a way to get the puck to a teammate. Overall, the Flyers did a nice job during that frame on Crosby, who was held without a shot and won just 3 of his 9 faceoffs. That included losing one to Wayne Simmonds.

• The Flyers' second line continues to generate opportunities and offensive zone time. The unit's first shift resulted in three shots on net from each player on the line. The second shift resulted in a power-play opportunity as it worked the puck deep in the Penguins’ zone before Konecny drew a slashing penalty at the 7:57 mark of the first period.

• Couturier wasted that opportunity to gain an early lead when he swung his stick and was eventually whistled for slashing, which essentially negated the Flyers’ power play after just 23 seconds on the ice. Those are the opportunities you can’t let go to waste playing against Pittsburgh.

• Robert Hagg turned in a solid defensive shift against the Penguins’ top line. He stayed in front of Crosby and then peeled off to take Conor Sheary, who swung around to the left of the net and was able to only get off a sharp-angle shot. One of Hagg’s best strengths is how he utilizes his stick low to the ice to take away potential passing lanes.

• Unless Guentzel’s shot deflected off Brandon Manning’s stick, Elliott should have made a blocker save on that shot. It appeared Elliott was on his angle and the puck simply slipped past his blocker.

• For the most part, the first period was played evenly until the final six minutes when the Pens gained the territorial edge and wound up outshooting the Flyers by a 17-10 margin.

• The Flyers were given a generous 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:21 when Olli Maatta was whistled for a cheap hooking penalty. Regardless, the Flyers capitalized with their first two-man advantage goal as Gostisbehere cranked a slapper that Matt Murray could not handle. For Gostisbehere, that’s two goals in two straight games.

• Fourth-line tough guy Ryan Reaves took a run at Flyers captain Claude Giroux and knocked him into the short boards between the two benches. You can’t have one of your skilled players take that sort of punishment.

• There was a very good recovery from Travis Sanheim on Carl Hagelin’s potential breakaway. Both Manning and Sanheim converged on Hagelin.

• The Flyers hit the crossbar twice in the span of less than two minutes. Nolan Patrick from the right side and then Ivan Provorov on a perfect cross-ice feed from Jori Lehtera. Provorov had chances to jump into the play and make something happen. That was his closest chance of the game. About four minutes later, Danick Martel hit the post from about the same angle that Guentzel scored on Elliott in the first period.

• That’s two posts and two crossbars for the Flyers or this could have been a 5-1 lead.

• Couturier with a deadly snap shot that beat backup goalie Tristan Jarry. Credit Provorov with a nifty-looking kick pass right to Couturier, whether he intended to or not. Couturier has scored the bulk of his goals from right around the crease, but this time he displayed some touch on a goal that beat Jarry high glove. 

• Andrew MacDonald had an early third-period trip on Patric Hornqvist that gave the Penguins life. Hornqvist converted with a power-play goal by batting the puck in just above the crossbar and right in front of Elliott’s mask. Elliott looked as if he was preparing to grab it with his glove before Hornqvist got his stick on it. Dave Hakstol unsuccessfully challenged the call for goaltender interference.

• The Flyers took a two-goal lead into the third period, which lasted all of 1:46 after Bryan Rust broke in all alone on Elliott. Gostisbehere’s shot was blocked by Rust and “Ghost” simply didn’t have the foot speed to keep up with him. Elliott stopped the initial shot and the rebound appeared to kick in off Rust’s stick.

Lines, pairings and scratches 

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Danick Martel-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Dale Weise-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Brandon Manning

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Jordan Weal (healthy) and Taylor Leier (healthy), and defenseman Radko Gudas (suspended).

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

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Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

We are deep into the season of giving and the Flyers just keep giving fans exactly what they want: wins.

OK, sorry for that seasonal yet corny intro, but the fact remains the Flyers are on a tear right now, and it continued this past week with three more sound wins to push their winning streak past a handful to six games.

This week got off to the right skate with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory Tuesday over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The good vibes kept coming Thursday with a grind-it-out 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. And the week ended on the highest of notes Saturday night with a 2-1 OT win at home over the Dallas Stars.

Well, well, well … they’re back, aren’t they?

And before the Flyers push for seven straight Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, let’s look back at the successful week that was, shall we?

• The Flyers' three wins this week were good, solid wins over the Leafs, Sabres, and Stars. When you’re still trying to claw out of the hole a 10-game losing streak put you in, all wins are good, solid wins right now. But these three Flyers wins this past week weren’t of the most exciting variety. Let’s be blunt, all three wins were mostly boring.

Tuesday’s triumph over the Leafs was sleepy until Travis Konecny’s tying seeing-eye shot in the third and then Claude Giroux’s fantastic through-the-legs pass that led to Sean Couturier’s wicked wrister of a winner. Thursday’s win over Buffalo was a snoozer for the better part of 50 minutes. And Saturday’s victory over Dallas, while chippy, didn’t have much action to it outside of Shayne Gostisbehere’s heroics.

But the Flyers aren’t caring about being exciting and neither should you right now because it’s working for them. Jake Voracek’s quote after the Buffalo game says it all.

“I thought this was a boring game,” Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Yes, they can play better. But two points are two points right now, no matter how boring. Simply put, boring is working.

• So why the sudden turnaround for the Flyers? There’s a multitude of reasons — timely scoring, better defensive efforts and Brian Elliott playing like a rock in net, just to name a few.

But one major reason: discipline. In the three games this past week, the Flyers took three penalties total, on in each game. Dating back to Dec. 4 when this six-game win streak began in Calgary, the Flyers have faced just nine power plays against. Compare that to the 22 power plays the Flyers have had in the same span.

That’s a gigantic boost for a team that, as of Sunday morning, is still 29th in the league with a 76.7 percent success rate on the PK.

How do you cure something that ails you? Don’t put yourself in the situation.

• When Gostisbehere is at his very best, he can just dominate a game with his elusiveness, booming shot and dynamic offensive ability. And that’s just what we saw Saturday night against the Stars as Gostisbehere was a dangerous entity all over the ice and controlled the game when the puck was on his stick.

He brought the Wells Fargo Center to life with his second-period power-play goal that saw him dive a lift a rebound past Dallas goalie Ben Bishop. And then he unglued the place with his game-winner in OT on the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“Ghost” is such a key piece for the Flyers as so much of the offense tends to be filtered through him when he’s on the ice, and especially so on the power play. We saw what happened when he wasn’t playing up to his abilities during the 10-game skid. But the Gostisbehere we saw against the Stars is just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. And it shows just why.

• Good for Travis Sanheim getting the monkey off his back and potting the first goal of his NHL career during Thursday’s victory over Buffalo.     

During the first period, Sanheim took a feed from Dale Weise and deposited home a one-timer from the circle to knot the game at 1-1. Sure, he got a little help from Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who lounged wildly at the shot. But still, Sanheim made no mistake as he went top shelf with it. And he got the puck and the Ric Flair robe after the game to boot.

It’s just a slight taste of what the 21-year-old offensive-minded blueliner can do. In three junior seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Sanheim scored 35 goals. He potted 10 in 76 games with the Phantoms last season.

He can score, and as he gets more and more comfortable at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see him light the lamp more often.

• Here’s your obvious observation of the week: What a difference two weeks makes.

When the Flyers were shut out by the Bruins 15 days ago, morale was as low as it had been in a long time. Nothing was going right. No breaks went their way. No bounces even came close. The list of misfortunes could go on and on and on. On the morning of Dec. 3, the Flyers had just 22 points, fifth-fewest in the league. They were nine points behind the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here we are two weeks and change (and six wins in a row) later and the Flyers have 35 points and are just four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East.

Hope you guys like roller coasters.

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Los Angeles (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday vs. Detroit (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Friday at. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday at Columbus (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak

Flyers' Muhammad Ali-type mentality behind season-high winning streak


The Flyers developed a Muhammad Ali-type mentality Saturday night.

It was hockey’s version of the rope-a-dope, where the Flyers took the Dallas Stars' best punches early on before going the distance, eventually wearing down an opponent that was playing their third game in four nights.

The end result was a 2-1 Flyers victory, extending their season-high winning streak to six games (see observations).

In fact, the Stars attempted to set the tone on the opening shift when Stars captain Jamie Benn tried to rattle the cage of Claude Giroux. They tangled on their way back to the bench with Benn extending his glove underneath Giroux’s chin.

“We knew they were going to have a good push at the start of the game,” Brian Elliott, who has started all six games of the winning streak, said. "We knew they wouldn't be able to keep it up playing a back-to-back. I thought our guys did a really good job of sticking to that game plan and staying patiently persistent."

The Flyers also knew the Stars would come out of the gates flying after a disappointing 5-2 loss at New Jersey the night before.

“We’ve been on the other side of it,” Giroux said. “Playing a back-to-back, it’s not easy, especially when you’re traveling and we really wanted to take advantage of that. Other teams took advantage of us before.”

The Flyers started to turn up the heat in the opening minutes of the second period when they controlled play with extended shifts in the Stars' end of the ice, coupled with a pair of breakaway opportunities from Travis Konecny and Jakub Voracek.

“That (second) period was the one for me where we pushed the game in our direction,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was during the second period we were able to use everybody. Everybody was going and that allowed us to raise the pace of play a little bit.”

The Flyers were also propelled by their power play that finished the game 2 for 6 and a whopping 12 shots on net. After scoring on a rebound that deflected off the backboards, Shayne Gostisbehere landed the knockout blow with 1:10 remaining in overtime when "Ghost" blasted an overtime slapper during the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“A lot of that power play was going rover," Gostisbehere, who scored his fifth career overtime winner, said, "but you could tell we were feeding off each other, finding lanes and we were just relentless and a goal at the end just showed we weren't giving up there."

Stars coach and former Flyers bench boss Ken Hitchcock was attempting, for the second time, to become the third coach in NHL history to win 800 career games. Much of the reason he didn’t achieve the milestone was the careless penalties of forward Alexander Radulov, which led to both of the Flyers' power-play goals.

“It’s not team discipline, it’s individual,” Hitchcock said. “It’s disappointing to fight like we fought and battle. Come off, playing hard like this off a back-to-back, it’s really disappointing to take those two penalties at the end of the game.”

The Flyers also snapped a seven-game losing streak in contests that extended after regulation. The Flyers had dropped five of those in overtime and another two in the shootout.

“I thought we had a really positive attitude,” Elliott said. “I think everyone thought we would go out there for overtime and win. I didn’t think anybody had any doubts or anything. That’s all you can ask for going into those situations.” 

“I liked the way we approached overtime,” Hakstol said. “I didn’t think we pressed or pushed anything. We weren’t taking any long shifts, no high risk plays. I thought guys just went out and did their job and did it the right way.”

Right now, it’s a Flyers team that may not be floating like a butterfly, but they can certainly sting like a bee.