Flyers take another gut punch in OT, drop to Penguins for 8th straight loss

Flyers take another gut punch in OT, drop to Penguins for 8th straight loss


PITTSBURGH — Any Flyers lead right now has the stability of an awkward-leaning Jenga tower, and all it takes is the slightest miscalculation for the whole structure to come crumbling down.

Monday night’s game at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh was another epic collapse, as the Penguins rallied to beat the Flyers, 5-4, in overtime (see observations). First, the Pens wiped out the Flyers' 3-1 lead in the opening 1:46 of the third period, then erased the Flyers' 4-3 advantage with 1:04 remaining in regulation.

And who other than Sidney Crosby to punctuate the Flyers' misery? He scored the game-winner in the extra session (see highlights).

It's the fourth time in the last six games the Flyers have blown a two-goal lead at some point of a contest, while extending their losing streak to eight straight games, five of those coming after regulation.

“We’ve got to finish one of these,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s not much more to be said other than that. We’ve got to finish one of these. We’re in position, night after night, and we were in position again tonight.”

“I think they just came at us,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “They had a good push and it took all of two minutes to tie it up. We talked about it — try to keep our game going and be aggressive. They come out and get a power play and it puts an end to that.”

Confidence is frail right now and it won’t be restored until the Flyers earn that much-needed victory. However, it’s the same recurring problems that continue to plague this team. The Flyers' penalty kill gave up a goal for the sixth straight game, which now brings the total to 10 power-play goals allowed over that six-game span.

Combine that with a team that appears to have taken on the personality of its coach, who doesn’t appear to show emotion in those moments of desperation.

“I understand from a player’s standpoint the frustration level that comes tonight right into this point in time,” Hakstol said. “Again, we have to have a short memory because we have to turn around and play again Tuesday night. Bottom line, you can overthink it and put any terminology you want on it, bottom line is we have to go out and play another good hockey game and push to complete a win.”

The Flyers believed this time would be different. Michael Raffl’s one-man effort late in the game looked to be enough to break the team’s bad luck. Raffl stripped defenseman Matt Hunwick and then outmuscled Phil Kessel before breaking in on goaltender Tristan Jarry, beating the rookie with a backhand shot. At that moment, the Flyers appeared to have weathered the Pittsburgh storm.

“It’s hard because we’re playing really good hockey games,” Travis Konecny, who scored his first goal in a month, said. “We’re giving ourselves a chance to win hockey games. Maybe we just let our guard down for a couple of minutes and teams are taking advantage of those couple of minutes that we’re sitting back.”

That’s when it all started in the opening minute of the third period.

With Andrew MacDonald in the box for tripping, Patric Hornqvist ignited the Penguins' comeback when he batted a puck out of the air and right in front of Elliott’s glove. The Flyers' goaltender appeared as if he was on the verge of snagging the puck before Hornqvist beat him to it. Hakstol elected to review the play for goaltender interference, but the officials determined Hornqvist was not in the crease.

“It’s so gray that I don’t understand what’s a call and what’s not a call, even when you see replays throughout the league,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what’s what. I put my hand out to try and catch that puck. [Hornqvist] is coming in and bumps my hand. They say he’s not in the crease, but I don’t know if that matters if you can’t make a play on the puck.”

Elliott faced a barrage of shots and the Flyers had to feel fortunate they were able to force the game past regulation as Conor Sheary rang a shot off the post with a second to play in the third period. 

This was the first time in 355 career starts that Elliott saw 50 shots in a game, as the Flyers were under siege throughout the final period. As a result, Elliott was forced to make a career-high 47 saves, while the Flyers were outshot, 52-32.

“You see it all year. They’re good at just getting to the net and showing for bodies and just getting ugly ones like that,” Elliott said. “That’s how they get a lot of their stuff — shooting off bodies and guys standing at the posts and having those little deflections.”

Perhaps the biggest sting from this game was watching Crosby celebrate his game-winner. With three more points, the Flyers' killer now has 87 in 60 career games against the orange and black.

Watching that has been a frustration over the past decade.

Finish-them-off mindset fueling Flyers' surge

AP Images

Finish-them-off mindset fueling Flyers' surge

From the upbeat music blaring when you first walk in the locker room to the jovial tones the players on the team speak with, it's clear times have changed drastically from a few weeks ago for the Flyers.

Just over two weeks ago, the music would have been shut off and a straight-laced attitude of needing to play better would have been blatantly evident during the 10-game skid.

Wins cure all, don't they?

And the Flyers will be going for their seventh consecutive win when they host the Los Angeles Kings Monday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Beside the music and the attitude, what has changed over the last few weeks to ignite this stretch of success? The Flyers feel a massive key has been their play in tight games, specifically in the third period. Where they would have crumbled weeks ago, they are excelling now.

"We've come to the conclusion that, obviously, we have to be on the same page to win games," Wayne Simmonds said Monday after morning skate. "We've done the exact same thing every single third period. To win games, you have to be consistent and do the same things every night.

"[Saturday vs. Dallas] in the third period, I think everyone thought we were actually winning the game 2-1 instead of being tied. That sets our expectations high. That's what we expect of ourselves. It was a good feeling and we kind of knew we were going to win that game, whether it was going to take 65 minutes or a shootout. ... We've kept it simple. I think that's the main thing for our team - we've kept it simple and everyone is on the exact same page."

The proof is in the pudding of Simmonds' words.

During the miserable 10-game losing streak, the Flyers were outscored 10-2 in third periods. Five of those games wound up as one-goal defeats decided in either OT or a shootout. Leads were held at one point or another in six of those contests. 

Moral of the story? Points were there for the taking and the Flyers left them dangling on the table for the opponent to grab.

Now, during this six-game win streak, the Flyers are outscoring the opposition 7-1 in third periods.

"We've been going into the third period and we've been on the same page," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We're excited to go out there and win that game. I think we're doing a lot of good things. We were doing a lot of good things when we weren't winning. But now it's more good things, doing the right things. 

"We go into the third period and it's a tight game or we're up a goal, we feel confident. If we play our game, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win. But we have to keep that mindset."

Much like Giroux, head coach Dave Hakstol feels the Flyers were doing good things during the skid, but now they're putting them all together and the wins are the result of just that.

"We obviously went through a stretch where we didn't have good third periods and at times we were our own worst enemy," Hakstol said. "Yet even within those periods we were playing pretty good hockey. But we had a tendency to try a little hard or look for a play that wasn't there that comes back to haunt you pretty quickly. 

"I think that's probably the biggest thing that has been different for us here over the last short stretch - just staying with the game."

Facing a defensively sound and structured Kings team that has a plus-22 goal differential and features a world-class goalie in Jonathan Quick, it likely means the Flyers are in for another close game Monday night.

And unlike two weeks ago, that's a welcomed situation. Because it's never too close for comfort now.

Twisted history
The Flyers on Monday can tie a weird, crazy, bizarre and whatever else you want to call it NHL record. They can tie the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs for the longest winning streak immediately after losing 10 games in a row. Those Leafs lost 11 in a row before storming back to win seven straight. Those Leafs also went on to win the Stanley Cup. 

Hey, who knows anything anymore, right?

More honors for Elliott
Flyers netminder Brian Elliott was honored by the NHL for the second straight week. This time, he was named the league's second star of the week after posting a 3-0-0 record, 1.31 goals-against average and .943 save percentage as the Flyers extended their win streak. His best performance last week came Saturday against the Stars when he stopped 27 shots in the 2-1 OT victory. Elliott, who will start Monday vs. the Kings and sports a 12-6-6 record, 2.61 goals-against average and .915 save percentage this season, was the third star the previous week.

No lineup changes are expected for the Flyers Monday. Injured goalie Michal Neuvirth, whose missed the last almost two weeks with a lower-body injury, took part in morning skate again, but still isn't ready to go. Alex Lyon will again backup Elliott.




Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

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.