Flyers

Flyers-Sabres observations: Second line continues surge

Flyers-Sabres observations: Second line continues surge

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The roller-coaster ride that is the Flyers’ season saw the team extend its winning streak to five games after defeating the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim scored the Flyers’ first goal and his first NHL goal after taking a pass from Dale Weise and firing a perfectly-placed shot past Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner. 

After scoring three goals in the preseason, Sanheim finally scored No. 1 in his 28th regular-season game.

Valtteri Filppula scored the game-winner with 2:33 remaining in the second period.

Brian Elliott stopped 19 of 20 shots and has earned the win in every game during the current streak.

Michael Raffl played in his 300th career game.

• The Sabres scored the first goal 1:29 into the game when Elliott attempted to rim the puck around the boards from behind the net, but Zemgus Girgensons blocked it with his body that left Elliott in no-man’s-land. For whatever reason, Elliott elected to stay behind the net instead of retreating back to his crease, which left Ryan O’Reilly in front with a slam dunk empty-net goal.

• Roughly a minute later, Elliott was caught behind the net where he nearly did the same thing as he threw the puck straight into a Sabres player. This time, rookie Nolan Patrick was on the back side to protect the post, stop Sam Reinhart and save the goal.

• The Flyers scored first as the Patrick line had a good cycle game. Eventually, Weise fed a pinching Sanheim, who moved in from his left defense position. Instead of winding up for a big slap shot, Sanheim wisely directed the puck, which allowed him to pick his spot on the net. For Sanheim, it was his first NHL goal after he displayed what he could do offensively during the preseason.

“It feels great,” Sanheim said at the first intermission. “Obviously, it was a big goal in the game. I’m just excited to finally get the first one. Weiser was coming behind the net, and I saw my winger kind of cheat to the wall and I had a seam down the middle. He made a great pass, and I was pretty excited that it went into the back of the net.”

• There was a lazy penalty by Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo as he tripped Filppula behind the Flyers’ goal line. The Flyers’ second unit actually performed better than the first unit and had better success with its setup, including a quality chance down low as a result of quick puck movement.  

• Sanheim may have scored his first goal, but defensively his struggles continued throughout the night. He turned the puck over and then lost track of his man as Reinhart fed Evander Kane for a one-timer in the area where Sanheim was supposed to be stationed.

• Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere appeared to be in quite some pain as he left the ice with 1:57 remaining in the first period holding his left arm.

• Early in the second period, the Flyers’ No. 1 PP unit looked much better with a pair of prime opportunities. “Ghost” ripped off a slapper that sat on the crease for a split second. Wayne Simmonds was in front and tried to bang it home with no luck.

• It was a rough shift for Ivan Provorov as he was whacked in the face by his teammate’s stick. Seconds later, Provorov snapped his stick on an attempted slap shot and was caught up in the Sabres’ 2-on-1 the other way with Kane getting off a weak attempt that Elliott turned away with his right pad.

• As much as I like Jakub Voracek’s power-skating game with the puck, he’s definitely turnover-prone. He had a couple of turnovers in the first period and another at the 9:00 mark. On that same shift, Voracek broke in all alone on Lehner for perhaps then Flyers’ best chance of the second period. With Voracek, you have to take the bad with the good. 

• I’ve really liked the play of the Patrick line with Jordan Weal and Weise. Together they were buzzing in the offensive zone for most of the first two periods. They were in on Sanheim’s first goal and Weal had that extra gear in this game and looked determined to score. 

• The Flyers grabbed a 2-1 lead when the trio of Raffl, Filppula and Voracek all got involved. It initially started with Raffl’s strong forecheck when he eventually grabbed the puck as it came off the wall. Raffl then fed Voracek, who was stationed at the goal line, and finally to Filppula, who wristed a shot top left corner — a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play.

“It was definitely an important goal,” Filppula said at the second intermission. “There’s not a lot of room out there. It’s a close game both ways, so it was good to get ahead before the third.” 

• After he was leveled to the ice in the Sabres’ zone, Travis Konecny took out his frustrations on Okposo and drove him hard to the ice.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

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.

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

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After watching what transpired over the last two games, there’s a strong feeling the Flyers played their final game on South Broad Street this season.

And for those who forked over postseason prices for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, those fans certainly didn’t receive face value for what they paid.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Flyers dropped Games 3 and 4 on home ice, and neither game was even remotely competitive. After the Flyers lost, 5-1, in Game 3, the Penguins dimmed the lights at the Wells Fargo Center and shut off any electricity the crowd was hoping to generate in Game 4 with a 5-0 shutout (see observations).

Simply put, the Flyers looked deflated and dejected knowing they would be forced to play without Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision but officially ruled out 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.

“They came out hard,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We kind of looked a bit flustered and I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”

Whatever rivalry existed between the Flyers and Penguins coming into this season was hardly recognizable in the four games played in Philadelphia (two regular season, two playoff), where the home team was outscored 20-4 (see story).

Just the mere presence of the Penguins in this building is expected to bring out the best in the Flyers. Instead, we saw them at their worst, and nothing irks Flyers fans more than watching Sidney Crosby walk out of the City of Brotherly Love with six points and two victories in a pair of playoff games. 

“It’s disappointing,” Dave Hakstol said. “You take that upon yourself. Bluntly, we’re not happy about it. It wasn’t good enough.”

The Flyers may have fed off the home crowd for one period on Sunday afternoon, but even as they barraged the Penguins with constant pressure, they still found themselves down 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. After a slew of penalties in the second period, the Flyers were never the same.

Disapproval poured down Wednesday when the Flyers flopped on their power play, which finished 0 for 10 in the two games on home ice, and the crowd of 19,644 booed unmercifully as the horn sounded after each period.

With the Wells Fargo Center half empty midway through the third period, the postseason frenzy felt more like a preseason yawner. 

“Fire Hakstol” chants could be heard from the upper deck — the first time that phrase echoed throughout the building since the 10-game winless streak in November.

Prior to this week, the lasting memory of a playoff series against Pittsburgh was Claude Giroux decking Crosby on the opening shift of Game 6 in 2012 and then proceeding to score the first goal as the Flyers eliminated their cross-state rival.

For whatever reason, the Flyers never evolved into a dominant team on home ice this season. The Flyers' 22 wins were the fewest of the 16 teams to reach the postseason and even three non-playoff teams finished with better records at home.  

At times, the Flyers played too cute or tried to execute too perfectly in their building, but in this series, it was just too ugly.

“Earn Tomorrow” was the Flyers' playoff slogan coming into this series.

After what the Wells Fargo Center witnessed this week, a chance at tomorrow may be too much to bear.