Flyers-Senators observations: Defense, close calls key in loss

Flyers-Senators observations: Defense, close calls key in loss


OTTAWA, Ontario — The Flyers own their first losing streak of the season after they dropped back-to-back games with a 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

For a second straight game on the road, the Flyers dug themselves in another 3-0 hole. However, unlike the game in Nashville, they weren’t able to climb all the way out despite a furious finish that saw the Flyers just inches away from tying the game.

With under a minute left and the extra attacker on, the Flyers appeared to tie the game for a moment. The puck was pushed into goalie Craig Anderson’s glove, which sat just behind the goal line. The play was not ruled a goal on the ice and upheld after a review.

That was the second review of the night that didn’t go the Flyers’ way. The Flyers appeared to have closed within 4-3 in the third period, but Brandon Manning’s goal was taken off the board for goaltender’s interference. 

Jordan Weal backed into Anderson, but it appeared the goalie may have initiated the contact. As Weal skated to his left out of the crease, it seemed Anderson was clear and free to make the save. However, the review officials in Toronto felt Weal’s presence in the crease ultimately impacted Anderson’s ability to make the save. I thought the call could have gone either way. 

The Senators tacked on their final goal a minute later when Tom Pyatt wristed a shot low between Michal Neuvirth’s blocker and right pad to give Ottawa a three-goal lead with 9:30 remaining in the game.

• On the Senators’ fourth goal, Ryan Dzingel raced into the Flyers’ zone, stopped in the circle and then fed a cutting Mark Stone in the slot, who fired a backhanded shot past Neuvirth. Valtteri Filppula did a solid job of getting back on defense and covering Stone in the slot, but he couldn’t tie up his man. Stone — who has a great set of hands — made a nice spin move to elude Filppula and score. I didn’t like the way Shayne Gostisbehere played Dzingel.

• Jakub Voracek will take his first goal anyway he can get it. In the second period, Voracek tried to center a pass to Sean Couturier in front and the puck deflected off Sens defenseman Dion Phaneuf and past Anderson for the Flyers’ first score. Voracek said after the morning skate he wasn’t panicking over a lack of goals and that they would come eventually (see story). That’s a start. 

• Later in the period, the Flyers closed within a goal when Radko Gudas fired a two-line pass to a cherry-picking Travis Konecny, who popped home a breakaway goal that beat Anderson blocker side. Earlier, Konecny mishandled a puck in the neutral zone and then weakly backchecked to allow the Senators to put a good shot on net. 

• The Flyers’ second period was considerably better than the first period with more possession time and cleaner passes from zone to zone.

First-period observations
• I thought the Flyers had a good game plan of breaking the Senators’ methodical, clog-up-the-middle neutral zone play. But their execution was weak, especially in the opening 10 minutes of the game.

• Neuvirth gave up his first bad goal of the season when Phaneuf casually flipped a puck on net from just inside the blue line. The angle of the shot appeared to catch Neuvirth by surprise as he failed to adjust and the puck sailed over his glove as it just caught the top right corner of the net. The puck wasn’t tipped and Neuvirth wasn’t screened. Just a bad goal for Neuvirth. 

• Neuvirth wasn’t nearly as locked in as he was in his previous three starts. Even on some of the shots he stopped, he gave up some big rebounds. He failed to secure a couple of loose pucks, lost his stick briefly during a sequence and just didn’t have the sharpness we had seen previously. 

• The Flyers knew coming into this game they had to execute from zone to zone. It was a point of emphasis for head coach Dave Hakstol. With the Senators leading, 2-0, Erik Karlsson perfectly read Konecny’s cross-ice pass, picked it off in the neutral zone and set up Jean-Gabriel Pageau for a quick snap shot over Neuvirth’s glove for a 3-0 Senators’ lead. When asked about Konecny pregame, Hakstol thought long and hard before answering. His play has really dipped over the past three games.

• As strange as it may seem, without Andrew MacDonald the Flyers’ back end continues to struggle mightily. Gudas had a lazy backhand pass in the Flyers’ end that led to a quality scoring chance. Rookie Travis Sanheim, starting the game alongside Robert Hagg for the first time in the regular season, coughed up the puck twice in the opening period. Sanheim started the season off a little shaky, rebounded, and now seems to have hit a real rough patch where I’m wondering about his confidence. 

• However, I don’t pin the blame on Sanheim on Ottawa’s second goal of the game. The Flyers overloaded on the right side of the ice and once the Senators gained possession along the boards, it was an easy opening on a series of breakdowns. Typically, it’s Voracek’s responsibility to cover the left-side defenseman, Matt Borowiecki in this case, but the Flyers were caught so far out of position that they couldn’t recover in time.

• The Flyers had a chance to cut into the Senators’ deficit with their power play. The second unit had a golden opportunity when Couturier had wide-open net for a split second that Anderson was able to cover at the last second. Anderson caught Couturier’s shot with his right pad, just reconfirming what I’ve previously said about Couturier’s shot: he doesn’t elevate the puck enough. With quick hands and elevation, that should have been a goal.

Lines, pairings & scratches

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott
Scratches: Dale Weise (healthy) and Nolan Patrick (upper body).

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

John Boruk/NBCSP

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

Aaron Roberts proudly wore his No. 88 Eric Lindros jersey when the Flyers traveled to Edmonton in December. Aaron also owns a John LeClair jersey, a Wayne Simmonds sweater, and at the time, a Claude Giroux that was on order.    

Roberts, like many who attended that game, is an Orange and Black diehard who was born and raised in Canada.

“Growing up when Philly won their Cups I started watching hockey,” Roberts said. “I don’t know. I went with a winner then and I just never, ever veered away from it. Of course, there’s temptation, but it’s always been Philadelphia for me.”

It’s not unusual to see a Philly faithful make their way out of the Canadian woodwork. Their popularity even rivals that of American-based Original Six teams.  

“I find that when I go to games Flyers fans are more friendly, like everyone wants to high five and stuff, which is cool,” said Troy Krechuniak, who lives in Calgary, but grew up in Edmonton. “I had to go through all of that (the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup). That’s the problem going through the (Wayne) Gretzky years, 1985 Game 5, 1987 Game 7.” 

So why this allegiance to a team located hundreds of miles away in another country? 

At one time, the Philadelphia Flyers were as Canadian as the Montreal Canadiens themselves, considering they’re still the last team to win a Stanley Cup with an all-Canadian roster. 

“First off, you choose the identity of a team when you’re probably six-to-nine years old, and at my age, I cheered for the Broad Street Bullies - Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz and so forth,” said Rick LeFort of Saskatchewan. “I moved to Manitoba years later. Manitoba connections are Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach.”

More than 40 years after bringing the city of Philadelphia it’s first Stanley Cup championship, the Broad Street Bullies left behind a legacy that has impacted a region where hockey is indeed a religion.

“Being in Calgary when there was no team, you got to choose which team you wanted to affiliate yourself with,” said Shawn Cochlan of Langdon, Alberta. “I did love that brand of hockey, and yet, a lot of my friends didn’t. I liked Philadelphia better because they were tougher.”

And the allegiance to the Flyers has been passed down from a generation of fans to their children and siblings.  

“My aunt and uncle were big Flyers fans, and I loved being an outsider,” said Ryan Doram of Edmonton. “Every year when the Flyers come to Edmonton we make sure we come to the games. I loved Lindros. I loved the Recchi years, and you always find your new favorites I guess. You always find players you look and gravitate to.”

Giroux has that gravitational pull. As the Flyers hit Ottawa and Montreal one final time this weekend, you’ll see No. 28 jerseys scattered throughout the arenas for the Hearst, Ontario native.

“We haven’t won a cup in a while. We’ve been there four or five times, but we’re getting better. I like what Ron Hextall is doing, and we’re going in the right direction,” said 54-year-old Tom Banks. 

“You cut me in the winter months, I bleed orange.”

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

USA Today Images

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in his 300th career win and the Nashville Predators routed the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville, which has won three straight. The Predators moved within one point of expansion Vegas for the Western Conference lead.

Nashville defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban each had two assists.

All of Rinne's wins have come with Nashville. He tied former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun for 33rd place in NHL history.

Logan Couture had the San Jose goal. The loss snapped the Sharks' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Wild use big 2nd period to top Devils
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored in a 39-second span during Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild rallied from two down to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Thursday night.

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly also scored in the second period and Eric Staal iced the game with an empty-net goal, his 900th NHL point. Backup goalie Alex Stalock made 38 saves as the Wild moved into third place in the Central Division after winning for the 11th time in 17 games (11-3-3).

Taylor Hall and Stefan Noesen scored for the Devils, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. Eddie Lack made 21 saves.

Hall's 13-game point streak is the longest in NHL this season, one more than David Pastrnak of Boston.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau made the right moves in this one, inserting Reilly and Stewart into the lineup and electing to give No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk a night off (see full recap).

Matthews exits Maple Leafs’ SO victory with injury
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner and the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night.

Auston Matthews tipped in Jake Gardiner's shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but later left the game favoring his right side after taking a hit from Cal Clutterbuck and did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion and another four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home.

Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Jaroslav Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.

With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL's rookie scoring race (see full recap).