Flyers

Flyers' Radko Gudas set to return from suspension, but did he learn his lesson?

usa-radko-gudas.jpg
USA Today Images

Flyers' Radko Gudas set to return from suspension, but did he learn his lesson?

He plays the game as if he’s preparing to be attacked in a dark, damp alley, but once you get Radko Gudas away from the rink, the guy teammates call “Gudy” is good for a few laughs. He may have the most easygoing personality on the Flyers outside of Michael Raffl, and over the past three weeks, Gudas has been counted on for a little comic relief.

“I try and help the guys out as much as I can,” Gudas said recently. “Try to make guys laugh every once in awhile. We’ve had a pretty tough stretch. Everything’s not going our way so I’m trying to find anything that will help the guys get in better spirits.”

That may have been Gudas’ toughest job of all throughout the Flyers' 10-game winless streak. Now he resumes his role of team tough guy after serving a 10-game suspension — the longest of his six-year career — for his nasty slash to the back of Mathieu Perreault’s neck in Winnipeg. 

Unlike the NFL — where suspended players can’t be anywhere near the team or their workout facilities — Gudas has been skating and practicing as if he was preparing to play.

When the Flyers return to the practice rink Sunday, Gudas will be reinstated and eligible for the Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the opener of a five-game homestand.

“I’m looking forward to it — playing the next home game against Toronto — so I’ve got that date circled on my calendar. I’m looking forward to helping the boys out,” Gudas said. “Family kept me together. I think they helped me out a lot through this. Just giving me encouragement, being there for me.”

“We’ve missed him, for sure,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “I think it’s not an excuse. You've got him, you've got [Andrew MacDonald] out, it’s that veteran presence. Not only on the ice, but off the ice, and guys go back to the bench. The young guys were reeling a little bit here. Guys get their heads back on track with the veteran influence. It’s important. Of course, we miss Gudy.”

As strange as it may sound, Gudas provides a calming presence to some of the rookies. The question moving forward is who plays that role with Gudas when tensions start to run high? Two seasons ago, management met with Gudas after his overaggressive play was starting to become a detriment to the team.

Coming into Thursday’s game against the Canucks, Gudas was tied with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the Flyers with 12 individual penalties taken. But if you measure that number by minutes played, Gudas leads the team by a long stretch, with one penalty for every 21.9 minutes he’s on the ice, including two major penalties.

“Radko hits hard. He hits as hard as anybody in the league,” Hextall said after Gudas received a major for boarding earlier this season in Ottawa. “His hits are impact hits.”

Gudas is also quickly learning the NHL hits back, and hitting Gudas where it hurts. As a result of his past two suspensions, Gudas has missed 16 games and has forfeited over $650,000. For a league looking to rid itself of its wild-west mentality pertaining to illegal hits to the head, there’s now a "Wanted" poster of Gudas nailed somewhere in its New York headquarters. However, the Flyers' defenseman believes he has a better understanding moving forward following a meeting with George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I think it was pretty good to meet with each other,” Gudas said. “I found out what they want from me and what they would like to see differently in case anything like this happens. I got good feedback from him and I’m looking forward to adapting to these things and trying to be as best as I can for my team.”

Can the Flyers maintain their disciplined ways with Gudas returning to the lineup? In their recent three-game road trip, the Flyers stayed out of the box, killing off just two power plays in each of those three wins. Now comes Gudas with his own bull's-eye that opponents will be targeting, goading him to step over the line just one more time.

“He’s done a really good job over the last year,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I don’t think it will be something that will be in the back of his mind. I think it’s something he’s looked at, he’s evaluated. You have to take it and evaluate it for what it is, try and learn a little bit from it. You've got to park it and move forward, and that’s what he’ll do.”

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

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

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Penguins have the Flyers on the canvas in a headlock.

The faces of the guys who wear orange and black are turning purple, and unless they put up a courageous fight as they did in Game 2, they will tap out of this best-of-seven series after just five games (see story).

General manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media for the first time since the series started and believes the Flyers have displayed a lack of mental fortitude through the first four games.

“A lot of it is mentality,” Hextall said. “We need to be stronger if a bump goes the other way. We need to be stronger and bounce back and create energy going back our way. The playoffs are a series of momentum [swings] — within a period and within a game. We need to do a better job of bringing the momentum back our way."

So where exactly does that start? The return of Sean Couturier would help considerably.

After sitting out Game 4’s 5-0 loss, the Selke Trophy finalist hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 5 after skating Wednesday and Thursday on his own. Hextall said Couturier would travel to Pittsburgh and nothing more than that.

“I’m feeling better every day, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Couturier said. “It’s really on me to see how I feel every day and hopefully, it keeps getting better. It’s really up to my body to see how it keeps progressing.”

Dave Hakstol switched up his lines once again Thursday, most notably installing Valtteri Filppula onto the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and breaking up the top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Robert Hagg is also expected to make his series debut, playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as fellow rookie Travis Sanheim will serve as the healthy scratch.

“About time,” Hagg said. “I’m looking forward to it tomorrow. Hopefully, I can bring something to the team, some energy. I think it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go in and show what I can bring to the team.”

“He brings a different element than a couple of guys in the lineup if we’re so inclined to make that change,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t generated very much over the last five periods, but at the same time, we’ve given up quite a bit in some of the harder areas.”

Toward the end of Thursday’s 45-minute practice, Giroux gathered his teammates around and delivered a speech he hopes can galvanize the Flyers for Game 5 and bring the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

“I think it’s believing in ourselves," Giroux said. "All year we’ve done that, and we’ve talked about it before. You lose 10 in a row and find a way to make the playoffs. Tomorrow’s a big game for us, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

Quick hits
• Speaking on the collision with Radko Gudas, Couturier said, "We've done this drill all year. It was bad timing and a fluke accident. There's no one to really blame, and I should have maybe had my head up there."

• Hextall believes Couturier should be the Selke Trophy front-runner based on his outstanding 2017-18 season.

"I think he should win it," Hextall said. "I know those other players fairly well, and yes, I watch Coots on a daily basis, but the two-way game that he brings to our team is in my mind, the best in the league this year."

• Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist will miss his second straight game.

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.