Flyers' rivalry turns to rout in the blink of an eye

Flyers' rivalry turns to rout in the blink of an eye


Whatever that proverbial hump looks like, wherever you may find it and however high it stands, the Flyers just can’t seem to get over it this season.

Tuesday’s night’s 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was all the proof you needed as the Flyers had a prime opportunity to pass up their cross-state rival in the wild-card standings, only to watch it come crashing down in a span of two minutes and 17 seconds when the Pens scored three unanswered goals (see observations).

“We know [there are] big points for grabs, especially tonight,” Sean Couturier said. “It was a good chance to make a statement and get back in the standings, but we lost that chance. We still have 40-something games left, so there’s still lots of hockey left.” 

Coming off their most impressive win of the season, a 5-3 victory last Friday in Tampa over the NHL’s best team at the midway point, the Flyers reverted back to the team that brings the required effort but can’t seem to pair that with the necessary goals or sound defensive play.

“We can’t have off nights like this,” said Brian Elliott, who was pulled after two periods once he surrendered four goals on 14 shots. “It didn’t seem like we had it tonight for whatever reason. We got caught in the second period there, but not what we want to see tonight.”

On this particular night, the Penguins didn’t even need the All-Star services of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Surprisingly, it was the play of their fourth line that made the difference as Tom Kuhnhackl and Ryan Reaves (two goals combined entering the game) both scored in that decisive second period (see highlights).

“Well, they’re a big, heavy line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’re hard to handle down low, but you have to defend hard on the right side of them with your feet, sticks and at the right time physically.”

One play may have summed up the breakdowns perfectly. The Penguins won a puck battle in their end of the ice and chipped it out to forward Conor Sheary, who broke in all alone for an easy goal after rookie defenseman Robert Hagg was caught up on the wrong side of the ice.

“We just made some consecutive, critical mistakes,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We had some shifts where we made some errors, not just one but multiple, and they ended up in the back of our net. That kind of summed it up.”

It was also the first time this season the Flyers allowed four goals in one period, as the Penguins ripped off all four of those goals in four minutes and 29 seconds to put the game well out of reach.

One team converted its chances and the other simply did not. The Flyers were also the recipients of odd-man rushes, open looks and power-play opportunities, but they came up short. At some point, the process of playing hard-nose hockey has to yield offensive production. 

Sometimes the Flyers find the back of the net, but more often than not, they come up empty.

“First period, we had a lot of chances. It just didn’t really go in and we’ve got to find a way for it to go in,” captain Claude Giroux said. “It’s frustrating. We know we can play better. We know we’re a better team than that and we’ll have to answer next game.” 

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot we would change in the first 30 minutes,” Hakstol said. “It’s the next two, two and a half minutes that cost us the game.”

If they don’t correct the necessary flaws and mistakes, that hump the Flyers have attempted to repeatedly climb will grow into an unscalable mountain.

Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

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Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 33 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and the Columbus Blue Jackets shut out the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Thursday night for their 10th straight win.

Pierre-Luc Dubois had two assists for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 42-28-5 and joined Philadelphia (1984-86) and Pittsburgh (2010-13) as the only NHL franchises to record 10-game win streaks in consecutive seasons.

The shutout was the 24th of Bobrovsky's career and his seventh straight win. Sonny Milano, Seth Jones and Thomas Vanek -- into an empty net -- also scored for Columbus, which moved into a second-place tie in the Metropolitan Division with idle Pittsburgh, each with 89 points.

Florida dropped to 37-28-7. With 10 games left in the season, the Panthers remained a point behind the idle New Jersey Devils for a playoff spot (see full recap).

Maple Leafs top Predators in Matthews’ return
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Auston Matthews had a goal in his return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Thursday night.

The Predators had been 14-0-1 since their previous regulation loss on Feb. 17.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitchell Marner each had a goal and an assist, and William Nylander and Jake Gardiner also scored for Toronto, which has won five of six.

Morgan Rielly had three assists for the Maple Leafs, and Tyler Bozak had two. Frederik Andersen stopped 23 shots.

Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell scored for Nashville. Pekka Rinne had 23 saves (see full recap).

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings
DETROIT -- Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Brett Connolly scored the game's only goal on a third-period breakaway to lift the Washington Capitals to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

The Capitals have won six of seven and lead Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points atop the Metropolitan Division as the regular season winds down. Washington has turned increasingly to Grubauer of late after Braden Holtby struggled in February and at the beginning of March. Holtby wasn't available Thursday because of an injury coach Barry Trotz described as a tweak.

The Capitals took the lead with 13:19 remaining in the game after Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet couldn't control the puck near Washington's blue line. Connolly and teammate Jakub Vrana went the other way on a two-man breakaway, and Connolly beat Jimmy Howard with a wrist shot to the glove side. It was his 15th goal of the season.

The Red Wings had a goal called back for goalie interference in the first period -- replays showed Tyler Bertuzzi appearing to make contact with Grubauer in front of the net. Detroit squandered a great opportunity in the second when the Red Wings had a two-man advantage for the full 2:00.

Andreas Athanasiou had a breakaway in the third, but couldn't beat Grubauer. Athanasiou had another chance in the final minutes, but his shot deflected wide as Grubauer tried unsuccessfully to grab it with his glove.

Detroit has lost 11 of 12 (see full recap).

Dave Hakstol shows who he can trust in Flyers' win over Rangers

Dave Hakstol shows who he can trust in Flyers' win over Rangers


Who can I trust?

That’s the underlying question Dave Hakstol is attempting to answer almost nightly as the Flyers inch their way toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was no different in the Flyers' frantic 4-3 win over the Rangers Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“We were sporadic. The first three or four minutes of the game, we weren’t sharp or crisp,” Hakstol said. “Honestly, we got back on our heels in the last part of the third period. There are things that we obviously have to clean up.”

The cleanup crew Hakstol is looking for must possess a trustworthiness factor that makes each player dependable during crunch time. Against the Rangers, the Flyers' coach was forced to lean heavily on a handful of guys who weren’t even on Hakstol’s roster during the first half of the season.

Matt Read replaced Travis Konecny (who scored two goals) on the top line, and was counted on defensively where Konecny came up short in the previous two periods. Read played 13:52 to Konecny’s 12:29.

“He wasn’t taking care of the puck very well,” Hakstol said of Konecny. “Individuals have got to be better at this time of year and how we manage the puck and the mentality that we’re going to do things with.”

“It’s just part of buying in and doing things for the team” Konecny said. “I have no problem with it. It’s a matter of getting the two points. If that’s the way we’ve got to win, then we’ve got to do that every time.”

The 21-year-old Oskar Lindblom scored the eventual game-winning goal on the opening shift of the third period, and the second-line winger was consistently shifted until the final four minutes of regulation.  

“Everybody’s different. It depends on the player,” Hakstol said. “Oskar is a guy that has come in and fit into the structural part of our game very well if you watch Oskar’s game. He’s just very intelligent in terms of playing within a system. He always finds a way to be on the right side of the puck.”

And then there’s goaltender Alex Lyon, who stepped up following his strong performance in relief of Petr Mrazek Tuesday night in Detroit. 

When the defense in front of him broke down, Lyon answered the call and preserved the Flyers' lead throughout times in the second period and even during a spotty third period.

“I was actually thinking about it before the game today,” Lyon said. “Every game is so different, and you feel different. Circumstances are different, the team is different every day, so I think the best guys are those who can adjust to that, so I try and take a page out of their book.”

And with his 33-save performance, Lyon has put himself in position to start Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh.

If there’s a doghouse for those who perform poorly, then consider this to be Hakstol’s safe house. They may not be the Flyers' best guys, but as of now, they’re the reliable ones.

Or as Hakstol is looking for — those who play on the right side of the puck.