Flyers rolling while overcoming illness

Flyers rolling while overcoming illness

Michal Neuvirth is now the Flyers' lead horse in net for the foreseeable future.

If the past week has served as any indication, Neuvirth appears ready for the responsibility. Since stepping in for Alex Lyon Feb. 3 against the Ottawa Senators, Neuvirth has stopped 44 of 45 shots and 10 of 11 in shootouts earning two wins and an additional point after regulation.

It’s been a rather bizarre past two weeks that began with Neuvirth admitting to feeling light-headed and dehydrated in the Flyers' 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 31, which came a few days after saying his problems “were behind him.”  

“I think he’s dealing with things better,” said defenseman Radko Gudas, “The games he played I don’t think we helped him much as well. He was unlucky enough to pick the games when we weren’t our sharpest. Of course he wasn’t 100 percent, and after last year’s scary moment, he wanted to make sure that he feels the best he can to get in there and get us two points.”

Gudas is referring to last April’s game against the Devils when Neuvirth suddenly collapsed on the ice, left the game on a stretcher and was hospitalized for precautionary reasons.

As of Tuesday afternoon, general manager Ron Hextall had not provided a medical update regarding Brian Elliott’s condition, but if the Flyers are forced to ride Neuvirth over the final 26 games of the regular season, he must perform better than he did at this time a year ago.

“Neuvy will go out and do his job,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “He did that in Vegas. There’s no overemphasis on anything. There’s a lot of imperfect situations. You band together and you go do a job and right now Neuvy has a job to do for our team.”

While earning the starting nod over Steve Mason last season at this time, Neuvirth won just two of his final ten starts of the season with an .890 save percentage in the month of February. However, his performance recently has helped solidify the trust and confidence with his teammates. 

“He’s been unbelievable in the past so we have a lot of trust in him and we know he can get the job done,” said center Sean Couturier. “He fights a lot and we’re lucky to have him.”

“We’ve got confidence with him in net, a lot of confidence,” said forward Wayne Simmonds. “He gets us that win in a shootout. He comes in in a pinch and does a great job, and then he plays unbelievable against Vegas. Of course we have faith in him.”

Giroux's first star
Claude Giroux may need a new tissue box in his locker stall as he continues to overcome the remaining remnants of a weekend illness that nearly knocked him out of Saturday’s game in Arizona.

“There’s like a little flu going on. I think Saturday was worse. Sunday I just felt no energy really. I didn’t get to play a lot so that was kinda good, play 13 minutes or so,” said Giroux. “To get a big win in Vegas I think is good for the team. At the same time, we can’t get comfortable here. We’ve got to keep pushing.”

“He’s got a strong mind and a strong body, and if he’s not dead, he’s going to play the game,” said forward Wayne Simmonds. “That shows the type of character and type of player he is.”

As a result of gutting out Giroux earned the NHL’s first star this week following his three-game effort that started with a three-point night against the Montreal Canadiens. Giroux added goals against the Coyotes and the Golden Knights finishing the week with six points. The captain admitted he’ll glance at the out-of-town scores at the arena and see the results of the games from the other Metropolitan Division teams.   

“It’s hard not to look,” said Giroux. “It’s up there and sometimes during timeouts you’re looking around. I think it’s good mentally to see what the other teams are doing.”   

Hak's expectations 
Hakstol typically doesn’t share and disclose his expectations and goals for his team, but Tuesday morning he opened upon slightly on the current path of the Flyers. 

“A couple of points behind where I’d want to be,” said Hakstol, who told the media where the Flyers are in the standings in relation to the playoff chase.

The Flyers come into Tuesday’s game with the Devils occupying the third automatic spot in the Metropolitan Division, and just a point shy of the Penguins for second place.

If you project their 65 points in their first 56 games the Flyers are currently on a 95-point pace to finish the season, which would appear to be sufficient enough to snag one of the two wild-card spots. Perhaps Hakstol has bigger expectations in mind with the potential of earning home ice advantage in a first-round playoff series.   

“There’s a certain level of play and success and number of points that we have to generate to give ourselves a chance to be a playoff team, and that’s where we spend our time and effort, and what do we need to do to gain points and get ourselves to that mark.”

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Replacing Wayne Simmonds on the power play may be one of the toughest assignments in the NHL.

After all, the guy is second to only Alex Ovechkin with 85 man-advantage goals since the 2011-12 season.

So when the predicament actually faced Dave Hakstol this week, the Flyers' head coach turned to … a 19-year-old rookie.

Why Nolan Patrick?

Three components of the decision stand out:

Intelligence factor
Leading up the NHL draft, the overwhelming strength of Patrick's scouting report was his hockey sense.

Those close to him, as well as draft experts, lauded Patrick for comprehending plays before they even happen and being above the ice in understanding spacing.

Those characteristics are crucial when having an extra man.

Patrick has two goals over two games filling in for the injured Simmonds on the Flyers' top power-play unit. Patrick exhibited his IQ with Thursday's game-winner, where he quickly planted himself right in front of the net, had the presence of mind to find the puck and then bury it past Sergei Bobrovsky.

"We told him, just stand in front, if you see a puck, bring it home," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We tried to simplify it for him and he's going to take care of it himself, he's a great hockey player. It's paying off for him."

All about the touch
Patrick has excellent hands.

Put him around the net, and he'll know how to deflect pucks and find holes in a goalie. His vision, skill and finesse are why he's regarded as such an all-around playmaker.

In Tuesday's win, Patrick found immediate success with the first power-play group. Making his way to the middle, Patrick took a Claude Giroux pass and showed off that touch, adeptly going top shelf as Carey Price went low.

Studying Simmonds' net-front proficiency hasn't hurt, either.

"I watch him every game, he's unbelievable there and good at tipping pucks and making plays," Patrick said. "You learn from just watching every day."

Building up the kid
With time, Hakstol and the Flyers have allowed for Patrick to become comfortable instead of putting the world on his shoulders from the get-go.

That's part of Patrick's makeup.

"He almost always wants to be comfortable and then he really starts to exert himself," Patrick's uncle, James, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last June

We're starting to see Patrick let loose.

As the Flyers have gradually upped his opportunity and responsibility, Patrick has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 12 games after putting up six (two goals, four assists) over his previous 34.

Placing Patrick among the team's best talent on the man advantage will only help with his confidence moving forward, in all situations.

The Flyers' power play entered Friday with the NHL's sixth-best percentage at 21.6.

It'll need more of Patrick — but the Flyers couldn't have asked for a much better start to life without Simmonds over the next two to three weeks.

Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

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Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each had two goals and an assist and the Pittsburgh Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Friday night for their season-best sixth straight victory.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, Sidney Crosby scored a late goal and Olli Maatta also scored. The Penguins took control with three goals -- two by Kessel -- in a 7:39 span in the second period.

Matt Murray made 27 saves for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 13 to overtake idle Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Since the Penguins were shut out by Carolina on Jan. 4, they are 16-3-1.

They were just as busy off the ice, completing a mid-game trade in which they picked up center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators. As part of the complicated three-team deal, they sent defenseman Ian Cole to Ottawa and forward Ryan Reaves to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teuvo Teravainen scored and Cam Ward stopped 33 shots for the short-handed Hurricanes, who have gone 0-3-1 during a four-game slide that's keeping them outside the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Wild dominate skidding Rangers for New York sweep
NEW YORK -- Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal each scored twice and Devan Dubnyk made 22 saves in the Minnesota Wild's 4-1 victory over the free-falling New York Rangers on Friday night.

The Wild completed a three-game sweep of New York-area teams after beating the Monday night and New Jersey on Thursday night.

The Rangers lost for the sixth straight time in regulation. New York is 6-17-0 since beating Buffalo in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (see full recap).

Blackhawks’ Berube dominant in 1st Chicago start
CHICAGO -- Jean-Francois Berube made 42 saves in his first start for Chicago to help the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Friday night.

Defenseman Jan Rutta, activated from injured reserve Friday, and Nick Schmaltz scored, and Artem Anisimov added an empty-netter with 30.5 seconds left.

Anthony Duclair had two assists for the Blackhawks. They won their second straight and third in four games following an eight-game losing streak that dropped them to last place in the Central Division.

Berube lost a bid for this first NHL shutout when Timo Meier scored his 15th goal on a screened shot with 7:51 left in the third period.

Martin Jones stopped 33 shots for the Sharks, coming off a 7-1 loss at Nashville on Thursday night (see full recap).