Flyers take too long to find power-play groove

Flyers take too long to find power-play groove


BUFFALO, N.Y. — A power-play surge helped the Flyers turn around their season and get back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The special team's success didn’t continue into Friday night’s 4-2 loss in Buffalo, as the Flyers couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities until it was too late (see observations).

Michael Raffl managed to score a goal with 15 seconds remaining in the Flyers’ fifth power play of the game but not before the Flyers pulled goaltender Brian Elliott to gain a 6-on-4 advantage — nor before the Sabres had built a two-goal lead.

Philadelphia couldn’t convert with two extra skaters earlier in the third period, failing to put a shot on net during 40 seconds of a 5-on-3 opportunity within a 3:20 power play.

In 9:08 of total time with a man-advantage, the Flyers forced Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner to make just six saves before Raffl ended Lehner’s shutout bid with 2:10 remaining.

“You can narrow it down to power plays, you can narrow it down to a lot of things,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored the Flyers' other goal with 32 seconds left in the game. “But I think our readiness as a team collectively wasn’t there tonight.”

Coach Dave Hakstol agreed that the power play outage was a symptom of a larger problem with the Flyers’ overall effort.

“We weren’t sharp enough, a lot like the rest of our game,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t make enough plays under pressure tonight, whether it was 5-on-5 or on the power play.”

In winning seven of eight heading into Friday night’s game, the Flyers had scored eight goals on 29 power play opportunities (27.5 percent). The string of victories brought the Flyers within three points of the idle New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot.

After winning five of six on a homestand, the Flyers started a four-game road trip that consists of two back-to-backs with a four-day holiday break in between. They play in Columbus on Saturday night.

“We did some good things at home on the homestand,” Gostisbehere said. “But it’s one thing to win at home. You have to do it on the road too. You’re not going to be a playoff team if you can’t win on the road.”

The Flyers' scoring struggles squandered a solid outing from Elliott, who made 28 of his 33 saves through the first two scoreless periods.

“(Elliott) gave us every chance possible to win that game and just to be in that game was pretty lucky,” Gostisbehere said. “He stood on his head and made some great saves. But I don’t think we are going to win too many games playing like that.”

The Flyers did kill off both of their penalties and have allowed two or fewer power play chances in nine of their last 10 games. They put two shots on goal while playing shorthanded.

Despite being on the power play for an additional five minutes, the Flyers were out-shot 37-35 by the Sabres. Shot attempts were even at 58 each. The Flyers had 14 shots blocked and missed the net on nine shots, including a one-timer from Jake Voracek in the third period that was the Flyers best power play scoring chance. Voracek assisted on both of the Flyers’ late goals to bring his league-leading tally to 36.

“We had a good push there at the end but we have to get that push earlier than we had it,” said Claude Giroux, who also had two assists. “It’s frustrating but at the same time we have to put this behind us and be ready for tomorrow.”

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Friday night for Game 5 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-1)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia; Pregame Live at 6 p.m.

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups (without Sean Couturier; more on him here)

Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Jori-Lehtera-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Sean Couturier (injured), Taylor Leier and Dale Weise; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Patric Hornqvist (injured), Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Flyers' energy level
The Penguins would love nothing more than to close out the series on home ice and rest up as they await the winner of the Capitals-Blue Jackets series. Sometimes that can force a team with a chance to close out a series to take its foot off the gas ever so slightly. The crowd at PPG Paints Arena will be roaring and the key for the Flyers is to survive the initial first 10 minutes of the opening period as the Penguins will come out strong in attack mode. Falling behind early could lead to the Flyers accepting their fate and the Penguins closing out the series in five games. 

Bold prediction: The Flyers will extend the series to a Game 6. They have performed admirably in closeout games when facing elimination. Claude Giroux stuck out his neck a little bit when he told reporters “we’ll be back for Game 6.” Giroux’s made similar statements not regarded as bold guarantees, but he usually backs up his words and doesn’t back down from a challenge. The captain also held a brief meeting with teammates on the ice Thursday near the conclusion of practice. A handful of the Flyers can recall falling down to the Capitals 3-0 in 2015-16 before the Flyers rallied to win the next two games before losing, 1-0, in Game 6. We should see a much more defensive-minded effort similar to Game 2.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on: 
Robert Hagg
We have a pretty good feel for how this game will go. Brandon Manning will fall a few times, turn it over a bunch. The Pens will be all over the Flyers. The only thing we don't know is how Hagg plays in his first career playoff game. Should have been sooner, much, much sooner. Should have been Manning who came out and not Travis Sanheim. Anyways, how does Hagg fare against the big, bad Penguins?

Bold prediction: "It's Close Until It Isn't." Mothers, a four-piece indie rock band from Athens, Georgia, has a song titled "It Hurts Until It Doesn't." Pretty accurate description of these Flyers right now. It hurts until you realize they were never really in it. Then comes acceptance. Tonight will be close until it isn't. Pittsburgh blows this open in the second period and series over.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Which team scores first
If the Penguins take an early 1-0 lead, it will be a death blow to these Flyers. They've been dreadful at recovering from Pittsburgh goals, showing no ability to redirect momentum. Given how this series has transpired, the Penguins striking first might crush any confidence the Flyers have left in the tank. However, if the Flyers can jump out with a statement, the belief that this series can meet a Game 6 in Philadelphia will only grow.

Bold prediction: Sidney Crosby lights the lamp first, matching the Flyers' goal output for the series and signaling the unofficial end of the first-round matchup. Crosby's been so darn good this series that it seems only fitting he gets things started in front of the home crowd. The Flyers will score but Crosby's tone-setting marker will be the beginning of the end for the 2017-18 Flyers.

Recommended reading
• Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

• What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

• Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

• Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

PITTSBURGH — With general manager Ron Hextall looking on from the tunnel to the bench, Sean Couturier took faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere during Friday’s morning skate. 

Putting pressure on his injured right leg while gaining leverage in the faceoff circle was part of determining the pain tolerance and whether Couturier could play in Game 5 against the Penguins.

“I don’t know. Trying to get a test but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs,” Couturier said rather jokingly. “It was kinda tough to test it out. I was just trying to simulate game situations.”

Of course, morning skates are nothing resembling the speed and intensity of a playoff game, but Friday marked the third straight day Couturier has skated.

“I felt pretty good. I felt better than yesterday,” Couturier said. “Still hoping. I guess I’ll take warm-ups and see how that goes. More movement, more skating than the last two times. It was a good day. It’s one thing to play but you’ve got to be able to help the team as well.”

Two years ago, playing without Couturier, the Flyers fought off elimination twice in their six-game series against the Capitals after falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series. Head coach Dave Hakstol believes that experience is something the veterans can impart on the younger, more experienced Flyers.

“This is a very different team — a lot of different personnel,” Hakstol said. “There were some guys that were part of that series, and some other guys who have different playoff experiences. So, I think you draw off your veterans’ experience.”

Historically, the Flyers have succumbed to the opponent when trailing 3-1 in a seven-game series with a 1-16 record when facing elimination entering Game 5. The only exception came during the Flyers remarkable 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

At this point, Hakstol doesn’t feel the need to motivate by stressing the importance of a must-win game. 

“We didn’t do a whole lot of talking yesterday,” Hakstol said. “We went out and had a good practice and took 24 hours as we traveled here to Pittsburgh. We talked a little bit in the morning just to get our focus in place. For the most part, we know where we’re at, so there’s no need to go into a bunch of clichés.”

Interestingly, Hakstol would not confirm his starting goaltender, but Brian Elliott is expected to make his seventh straight start despite a 4.75 goals against with a .856 save percentage in the first five games. Elliott, who was not on the ice for the morning skate, was stretching and going through his typical game-day rituals.

“We need a big performance from our goalie, yes, that’s fair to say,” said Hextall. “We’re going into their building and they’re going to be hungry, so we need a big performance from our goalie.”