Flyers

Flyers Weekly Observations: Highs of crushing Washington, lows of falling apart in Nashville

Flyers Weekly Observations: Highs of crushing Washington, lows of falling apart in Nashville

Another week of Flyers hockey is in the books on this infantile season.

So that means it’s your favorite time of the week: It’s time for Flyers Weekly Observations!

Please, hold your applause.

We’ll take a look back at the week that was with the Flyers, including Tuesday's absolutely stunning 6-5 loss to the Predators in Nashville and Saturday evening’s 8-2 shellacking of the Washington Capitals in the home opener in South Philly.

It’s not hard to figure out where we’re going to start this week. So let’s not wait any longer and hop right into the main course.

• Let’s just get right to the last several minutes Tuesday night in Nashville, where the Flyers saw a lead disintegrate into a frustrating, head-scratching 6-5 loss to the Preds. Firstly, Dale Weise and Andrew MacDonald, two veterans, can’t be taking penalties, ticky-tack or not in the eyes of some, like they did late while trying to nurse a lead on the road. In such hostile territory like Bridgestone Arena and on a banner night for the home team, no less, that’s a recipe for disaster. But Dave Hakstol, knowing the risks, cannot issue that coach’s challenge on the tying goal unless he knows for sure the Preds were clearly offside.

Look, I get what he was trying to do. He was taking a chance at dramatically shifting the momentum back in his team’s direction. But that wasn’t the time for chances. Any sort of uncertainty, and he needs to hold back there. Instead, he put his team in a deeper hole in a now even more hostile environment and you could just feel the nightmarish ending being written before it actually happened with the next 5-on-3.

I’m not a big fan of the offside challenge in general. It’s just such a convoluted rule and process that needs smoothing out. A guy is either onside or offside. Why the league insists on creating so much grey area in something that should be way more cut-and-dry is beyond me. And this new rule that penalizes an unsuccessful challenge defeats the purpose of having a challenge anyway. But it also means, more than ever, that there is a time and place to challenge. With uncertainty surrounding whether the Preds were actually offside, let’s just say holding onto a precious point while your team still has a penalty to kill and creating a second 5-on-3 for your team to kill on the road in the final minute of tie game isn’t the time or place for Hakstol to take that challenge.

• With as heartbreaking as the result in Nashville was, quite the impressive rebound performance Saturday night against the Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center. Sure, it was the home opener and there were all types of juice in the orange-clad atmosphere, and the Caps were playing their third game in four nights, missing star defenseman Matt Niskanen and started backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. But that was just utter domination of the Caps in all phases.

The Flyers outshot the Caps by a 37-23 margin, converted on the power play and added a shorthanded tally. The Flyers had five players with multiple points, led by Claude Giroux with four. Alexander Ovechkin had six shots on goal but was minus-4 on the evening. Basically, the Caps barely ever had a chance. The Flyers jumped on them early and often and squeezed the game away. That’s how you respond from a loss as jarring as the one in Nashville.

• Prized 21-year-old rookie Travis Sanheim was a healthy scratch Saturday and watched in a suit from the press box as Brandon Manning dressed instead. Sure, Ovechkin and the Caps are a tough matchup, but they’re a tough matchup for anyone on any team around the league. What exactly does Sanheim get out of watching that game from above? Is it more than the in-person experience he would get going up against a star-studded team? Nope.

If a 21-year-old rookie with the skill of Sanheim struggles and takes his lumps, so be it. He’ll gain that valuable experience that comes with it. And when he comes back and plays well afterward, whenever that may be, he’ll have all the confidence in the world. Confidence isn’t gained watching from the press box.

• How about the first line of the Flyers? Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek combined for 10 points against the Caps. Giroux and Couturier each had two goals apiece and Voracek was all over the ice all night long as he had both the puck and the Capitals on a string. The trio had three more points a few days earlier in Nashville, giving them 13 in their last two games. That’s impressive, and we’re just five games into the season.

The chemistry is obviously there, but they are still jelling together as a trio as the early season progresses on. Couturier has been on a tear dating back to last season. In his last 24 contests overall, he’s got 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists).

• I’m a big believer that every good team has a fourth line that not only can annoy with grit and hard work but can also be a threat to contribute offensively on any given shift. The Flyers hadn’t had that in recent years, needless to say. The script has been flipped this season with the Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier line. They can punish and smother teams on the defensive end and they can be a threat when they scoot up the other end of the ice.

Look no further than what Laughton did against the Caps on Saturday. His shorty was all effort and then his third-period tally was a laser beam of a beauty. These guys are more than effective together, but each also has the ability to move up and down the lineup if necessary. The Flyers may be on to something here with this triumvirate.

• Good for Nolan Patrick getting that first goal of his career under his belt, albeit during Tuesday's loss in Nashville. It was a great play by Weise to drive the net hard and create the ruckus in front that ended with Patrick burying the puck into the twine.

Here’s what I really liked about that goal from the 19-year-old’s perspective: He lifted the puck and left no doubt about it. Many his age would hastily try and shuffle the puck along the ice, where there was no open real estate. It may seem like such a simple concept, but that was some savvy and poise in the heat of the moment by the teenager. And that was also the first of many times he’ll light the lamp in his promising career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Florida (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Nashville (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Edmonton (1 p.m. on NBCSP).

It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

It wasn't long ago when some fans filled the Wells Fargo Center with chants to fire Dave Hakstol.

Back on Nov. 28, the displeasure was bubbling amid a confounding 10-game losing streak. The Flyers were wrapping up a 3-1 defeat to the Sharks as the skid apathetically hit nine.

That's when the boo birds came out in full flock.

The scene, so ugly, forced Ron Hextall into the Flyers' dressing room postgame to deliver what felt like a state of the union address in front of cameras and recorders. Over the next handful of days, on multiple occasions, the general manager had to defend his head coach's job security, and at times vehemently.

Oh, how things have changed.

Since Dec. 4, when the free fall was halted, the Flyers have gone 23-8-3 with 49 points, third most in the NHL behind only the Bruins and Golden Knights. Hakstol's bunch has climbed into playoff position, sitting in third place of the Metropolitan Division and only three games behind the first-place Capitals. 

When the losing streak was at its worst, the Flyers were in dead last of the eight-team Metro. At the time, things looked troubling.

But give credit where credit is due. 

Hakstol deserves plenty of it this season, especially for his constant maneuvering of personnel, which has proved wise time and time again.

First, it was shifting Claude Giroux from center to left wing during training camp. That was not an easy decision when asking a player as decorated as Giroux, on the verge of turning 30, to make a position change. The result has been a career resurgence for the Flyers' captain. After 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) and a minus-15 rating in 82 games last season, Giroux has 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists), tied for the NHL's second most, and a plus-15 mark through 60 games this season.

Not only has the move behooved Giroux, but it has also allowed for Sean Couturier's anticipated breakout. With Hakstol entrusting the 25-year-old to be his first-line center, the do-it-all Couturier is blossoming into the team's most valuable player, already shattering his career highs in goals (29), assists (31) and points (60).

This was all before the curtain even opened for the 2017-18 season.

To date, Hakstol's adjustments have only continued throughout the season — and they've worked. 

Despite topflight production early from his first line of Giroux, Coutuier and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers struggled, so the third-year coach broke up the trio in order for more balance within the forwards group.

The split created room for Travis Konecny to eventually make his way onto the top unit — and so far, so good would be an understatement. The 20-year-old has discovered his first-round potential with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in as many games since Dec. 28, a stretch in which the Flyers are 16-6-2.

To squeeze out even more ability, Hakstol has plugged in Konecny on the first 3-on-3 overtime grouping. In their last six games decided in OT, the Flyers are 6-0.

Meanwhile, Voracek hasn't missed a beat since joining the second line as he leads the league in assists with 55, the defensive pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere has paid dividends, while the team is currently riding a historic stretch of discipline

And, most recently, the important choice of filling Wayne Simmonds' first-unit power-play role saw immediate results. Hakstol on Tuesday used No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, who wasted little time rewarding his coach with a man-advantage goal on the team's first chance.

"Hak, first of all, is a very good coach," Hextall reaffirmed on Nov. 29. "He's as hard a working person as I've ever seen in the game.

"We're a young team, we have a lot of young kids coming and we're going to get better. We're going to play better than we're currently playing."

Hextall may be the most prudent general manager in the game.

He sure wasn't about to overreact 26 games into a season — and you can see why that's not his nature. What Hextall adamantly believed is what has transpired — the Flyers are improving under Hakstol.

There's no denying that. 

They were 8-11-7 and scoring 2.69 goals per game with a minus-9 differential (79-70) when the losing streak was at 10. They've been one of hockey's best teams since then with 3.24 goals per game and a plus-20 differential (110-90).

Look at the broader picture: Through 60 games last season, the Flyers were 28-25-7 with 63 points and a minus-29 goal differential (179-150). This season, at the same juncture, the Flyers are 31-19-10 with 72 points and a plus-11 goal differential (180-169).

With two new goalies and no Simmonds (upper-body injury) for two to three weeks, Hakstol has bigger decisions ahead, ones he'll have to get right with a postseason berth in the balance.

But he's already done a lot right — and it's time he gets a little credit for it.

Vegas feeling golden after moving atop NHL standings

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USA Today Images

Vegas feeling golden after moving atop NHL standings

LAS VEGAS -- Alex Tuch scored the tiebreaking goal in the second period and the Vegas Golden Knights pulled away for a 7-3 victory over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.

With the win, the Golden Knights moved back atop the NHL standings with 84 points -- one ahead of Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay.

Ryan Carpenter, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Luca Sbisa, Erik Haula and Cody Eakin also scored for Vegas, which improved to 23-4-2 at home to set the record for home wins by a team in its inaugural season. It topped the previous mark set by the Gordie Howe-lead 1979-80 Whalers (22-12-6).

Tuch also had an assist and his first fight of the season, giving him the so-called Gordie Howe hat trick.

Marc-Andre Fleury, starting his ninth straight game, made 28 saves for the Golden Knights.

TJ Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Matthew Tkachuk scored for Calgary, which was 8-2-1 in its previous 11 road games. David Rittich finished with 19 saves (see full recap).

Blackhawks need lengthy shootout for win over Sens 
CHICAGO -- Nick Schmaltz scored the deciding goal in the seventh round of the shootout to give Chicago a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night, just the Blackhawks' second victory in 11 games.

Schmaltz fired a wrist shot between the legs of Mike Condon after Patrick Kane and rookie Alex DeBrincat connected earlier in the tiebreaker. Matt Duchene and Mike Hoffman scored in the shootout for the Senators, who lost their second straight.

Kane scored his team-leading 23rd goal and set up Artem Anisimov's 16th in regulation for theBlackhawks. Anton Forsberg stopped 32 shots through overtime and five of seven in the shootout, including final stop on Mark Stone.

Duchene and Zack Smith scored for the Senators in regulation, Stone had two assists, and Condon finished with 36 saves through overtime.

Chicago's Joel Quenneville coached his 1,600th NHL game. Only Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour have coached more.

The Senators and last-place Blackhawks, two teams well out of playoff contention heading into the NHL's trade deadline on Monday, both played their first of three games in four nights (see full recap).

Miller helps streaking Ducks blank Stars
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Miller couldn't help but crack a smile when remembering the mess the Anaheim Ducks found themselves in.

After two Ducks players put the puck over the glass on back-to-back plays while already on the penalty kill in the third period, Miller just dug in and helped drag Anaheim to its longest winning streak of the season.

Miller stopped 41 shots for his 42nd career shutout as the Ducks beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.

"We can laugh about it now, but when you watch those two float out of the rink you get a little anxious," said Miller, who picked up his third shutout of the season.

Ryan Getzlaf scored short-handed and Hampus Lindholm had a power-play goal for the Ducks, who took sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division.

It was the Ducks' second straight shutout, after Miller came on for the third period in relief of an injured John Gibson in a 2-0 win at Vegas on Monday (see full recap).