Flyers

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

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AP Images

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — For a team that has coughed up two-goal leads recently like mucusy phlegm during flu season, having Andrew MacDonald back on the ice paired with Ivan Provorov was a welcome sight for the Flyers at practice Sunday before heading out to Pittsburgh to battle the two-time Stanley Cup champion and rival Penguins Monday night.

“It’s great to have Mac back. He’s a great leader,” Provorov said. “He makes a great impact on the team. We understand each other. We read off each other. He’s in great position most of the times and that’s why he’s able to get great blocks and good sticks.”

MacDonald has been skating and practicing for the past week, looking to regain the flexibility and motion with his skating muscles after blocking a slap shot off his leg in the Oct. 21 game against Edmonton. After all, it was just a week ago MacDonald ditched the walking boot.

“It was simply getting some strength back into it,” MacDonald said. “I wasn’t putting any weight on it for a while and you’re losing some muscle in there. At this point, you just have to build it up a little bit and make sure there’s no setbacks.”

At the time of MacDonald’s injury, the Flyers were 5-3 and had given up an average of 2.25 goals per game. In the 15 games MacDonald has missed, the Flyers have an Eastern Conference-worst three wins during that span and have surrendered on average 3.6 goals.

The return of MacDonald certainly gives the Flyers more balance on the blue line, as head coach Dave Hakstol has been forced to rely on three rookies interspersed among his three pairs.

“When you have to shift your D pairings due to an injury, it depends sometimes how you’re making your shift or who you’re shifting for,” Hakstol said. “For us, the last couple of games we’ve had Mac out and [Radko Gudas] out. Two players that are very distinct in their roles. Today, Mac had a heck of a good day and looked good. He’s got a real presence in our dressing room and he also has a real presence for us on the ice, and the domino effect throughout our pairings.”

Along with Provorov, MacDonald will also help solidify the Flyers' top penalty-killing unit, a group that has plunged to 28th in the NHL while surrendering nine power-play goals over the last five games.   

Looking for buzz with new bees
Apparently the "Honey Bees" aren’t generating enough honey these days.

After keeping the line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl intact for the first 19 games of the season, Hakstol has elected to completely dismantle that line, as Laughton centered Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise during Sunday’s practice.

“Those two veterans have been out of the lineup for a couple nights,” Hakstol said. “There’s certain elements that they bring that are a little bit different than what Taylor and Jordan bring. Jori has played good, hard two-way hockey. He brings a heaviness to whatever line he’s on. For me, it’s more of looking for factors like that.”

The move also means Jordan Weal and Leier will serve as the healthy scratches for the Flyers' first game of the season against their cross-state rivals. 

“As an offensive guy, the numbers haven’t been there, and when that happens, it’s part of the game,” Weal said. “We need a little secondary scoring in the lineup. There’s no excuses. As an offensive guy, you’ve got to produce offense no matter where you are and what part of the lineup. I wasn’t doing my job and that’s what I was paid and brought here to do.”

“[Weal] wants to help and produce offensively,” Hakstol said. “He’s working hard and he hasn’t changed anything with his work ethic or his tenacity. Things haven’t happened and haven’t gone well for him.”

Interestingly for Leier, he scored his first goal of the season Wednesday against the Islanders.

“I don’t think I’ve changed the way I’ve played,” Leier said. “It’s a long year and we’re on a losing streak right now. I try not to get too high or too low. Sometimes you can tend to overthink during a year like this. There’s always a lot of variables that go into every situation. Sometimes you have to mix it up when there’s a losing streak and everyone wants results, including myself.”

Weise, with one goal in his last 11 games, has been a healthy scratch over the past three contests and Lehtera, still looking for his first goal in a Flyers sweater, has sat out in three of the team's last five games.   

“Two big bodies that can get in on the forecheck,” Laughton said of Weise and Lehtera. “We’re definitely building chemistry as practice went on, and I guess talk and see where we’re going to be in the offensive zone and things like that. I think it comes with communication. I’ve played with both of them in a couple of games and it’s just figuring out where everyone likes to be.”

DOA in OT
Following their Black Friday loss to the Islanders, the Flyers have dropped six straight games decided after regulation, four in overtime and two by shootout. It’s the longest such winless streak since March 3-April 4, 2015, when the Flyers lost seven straight after regulation.

Historically, the Flyers have been brutal in shootouts, but more recently, the breakdowns have occurred defensively during the five-minute 3-on-3 session.

“You've got to be communicating a lot and I think that may be one of our downfalls,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Sometimes we don’t talk a lot. We’ve got a lot of younger guys and communication is like having an extra guy out there on the ice sometimes. A lot more communication will do this team really, really good as well.”

“We’ve made mistakes that have led to point-blank opportunities,” Hakstol said. “Those have to change. Those have to be cleaned up immediately."

Over the past few games, Hakstol has also gone away from the trio of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere that has been OT gold in previous seasons.

“Are those combinations that we’ll go back to? Absolutely,” Hakstol said. “They were together up until the last two games. There were reasons for that. We’re creating and have created enough opportunities to win games in overtime. We've got to make sure we don’t start pressing to win those games.”

The Flyers are currently tied with the Ottawa Senators with six overtime losses.

Projected lines, pairings and goalies 

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

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

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Photo: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Greyhounds won their 20th straight game Saturday afternoon and now haven’t lost a game since Oct. 27, and Frost has been at the forefront of Sault Ste. Marie’s winning stream. Frost is averaging two points per game, collecting 40 points during the Greyhounds’ 20-game winning streak. Last week, Frost had eight points in three games.

Frost capped off the week with a two goal, two assist effort in Sault Ste. Marie’s 7-1 blowout win over Guelph. He also had a two-goal game Wednesday in the Greyhounds’ 4-1 win over the Flint Firebirds. Frost is now second in the OHL in scoring, with 55 points, second in assists with 36 and leads the OHL with a plus-42 rating. He’s averaging 1.67 points, third in the OHL and winning 50.1 percent of his faceoffs.

As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor pointed out, Frost is scoring comparable to what Travis Konecny was during his after-drafted season. Konecny spent one more season in the OHL after the Flyers drafted him in 2015 and then made the team in 2016-17. While it’s easy to look at Carter Hart in awe, Frost is the one prospect who’s breaking out.

We knew what Hart was — and what he’s doing in Everett is astonishing. We’ll see Hart plenty next week in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. Frost wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s selection camp this year, but it’s a safe bet he’ll be there next year. We continue to see panic over the Brayden Schenn trade, but that’s misguided. Frost is turning out to be an intriguing prospect, and remember, the Flyers have another first-rounder from St. Louis. Frost is most certainly trending upward. Sound familiar?

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge has played his final game for Victoriaville, as the forward will be traded Monday to the Quebec Remparts, according to La Nouvelle’s Matthew Vachon. After a brief period to start the season, Laberge cooled off considerably and has since been inconsistent. In his final week as a Tigre, Laberge had a three-assist game last Friday night in Victoriaville’s 7-2 win over Shawinigan but was pointless in his two other games.

When evaluating Laberge, it’s hard to root against the versatile forward because of his backstory. The 19-year-old faced adversity throughout his draft year and then dealt with concussions during his first season as Flyers property. He’s a kid you want to succeed, and so far, he hasn’t been able to get back to his draft-year production. He has just six goals and 20 points in 31 games this year. He will get a fresh start with the Remparts.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
We’re starting to see Lindblom come into his own with the Phantoms. The Swedish forward continues to adjust to the North American game, and we’re seeing more consistency from him in the AHL. Last week was no different. Lindblom saw his point streak hit four games before coming to an end Sunday against Bridgeport. Lindblom scored his seventh goal of the season last Wednesday, which capped off a three-goal in a four-game stretch. Then he picked up an assist on Friday against Charlotte and another Saturday against Syracuse. When we look at the advanced metrics, with many thanks to Broad Street Hockey’s Brad Keffer, you can see Lindblom’s Corsi numbers consistently improving, which is an indicator that he’s becoming more comfortable here.

Carsen Twarynski, LW, 19, 6-2/201, Kelowna (WHL)
We don’t talk a lot about Twarynski, the Flyers’ 2016 third-round pick, but let’s check in on the defenseman-turned-left-winger. Twarynski, who the Rockets acquired last season from the Calgary Hitmen, is producing above a point-per-game in Kelowna. Twarynski had six points in four games last week. He has 24 goals — seven on the power play — and 39 points in 31 games. What exactly kind of future does Twarynski have? It’s tough to get a read on him because he’s a streaky player. Twarynski projects to be a serviceable AHL player, but whether he’ll be an NHLer is up in the air. His WHL numbers are respectable, but he doesn’t seem to have the consistency to excite.

Quick Hits
• As expected, German Rubtsov made Team Russia for the World Junior Championships. Last week, Rubtsov had a goal in two games for Acadie-Bathurst.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri has a three-game point streak after picking up two goals and an assist in three games last week. Salinitri has 33 points in 35 games this season.

Matthew Strome, of the Hamilton Bulldogs, extended his point streak to five games. Strome has three goals and six points during his streak. He has 17 goals in 32 games.

• Kitchener’s Connor Bunnaman’s point streak reached five games with a goal Friday and an assist Sunday. Bunnaman has seven points during his current point streak.

Samuel Morin returned to action last Tuesday for the Phantoms but sat out Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. He’s been dealing with lower-body injuries.

• Without any official declarations, it appears Mike Vecchione is dealing with some sort of injury with the Phantoms. Vecchione hasn’t played since Dec. 9.

• The offense has picked up for Nicolas Aube-Kubel in his second pro season. He had two goals and two assists in four games last week. He now has 21 points in 30 games.

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

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USA Today Images

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).