Flyers

Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

Well, that was a busy week for the Flyers, now wasn’t it?

Seven days filled to the brim with four games, each with unique elements that turned into a 1-1-2 week with four points. The Flyers could have ended the week with more than four points. But they also had every reason to finish the week with less than four points.

It started with a mostly ugly 4-3 loss to the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Monday, continued with a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday and a scrappy 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Thursday, and it ended back home with a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado Avalanche on Saturday evening.

Four games left us with plenty to get down to, so let’s hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

And let’s begin on the blue line with the young defensemen.

• It was a week of bumps and bruises, both figuratively and literally for the Flyers’ defensemen. Much of the week was played without the injured Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas, the latter of whom left the game in Chicago early and hasn’t seen the ice since. But for the younger D-men, there were booby traps all over the learning curve this week.

Let’s start with Travis Sanheim, who made a costly mistake Monday against Arizona. And by costly I mean lethal, as it led to the goal that lost the game for the Flyers. During a rush late on the 3-on-3 OT, Sanheim turned his back to the Coyotes' net instead of getting the puck toward the net. His pocket was easily picked and the Coyotes converted on the ensuing 3-on-1 rush. Game. Set. Match. It was an odd decision for a smooth, offensively gifted defenseman, especially at that stage of OT. But you get the sense it was an example of a rookie just a month or so into his career trying to do too much. Those bumps are anticipated, but, man, that was just the wrong time for that move.

Robert Hagg had two similar experiences this week that left a pit in his stomach. First in Chicago on Wednesday, a puck bounced right over his stick after a faceoff win and Jonathan Toews was off to leave Brian Elliott out to dry on a Windy City clothesline. Then Saturday night while on the PK, a Mikko Rantanen pass attempt went right off Hagg’s stick, which was in good position on the ice, and into the net for an Avalanche goal. And to boot, he took a slapper to the kidney area later in the game. Ouch.

Again, these are all lumps that come with being a rookie in the NHL, especially in a high-pressure position such as defenseman. Remember that awful game Ivan Provorov endured early last year in Chicago? Yes, he’s a special talent, but he bounced back almost immediately. The key is not letting one or a couple plays stick in your mind and change the way you play. One good play, no matter how big or small, reinforces all the confidence in the world.

• Speaking of Provorov, that guy is just a machine. Let’s take a look at his ice time this week: 28:07 vs. Arizona, 29:51 vs. Chicago, 27:08 vs. St. Louis, 28:00 vs. Colorado. That’s an average of 28:17 over the last week. What more can he do? A lot. He added three assists vs. the Coyotes and then 10 blocked shots against the Blues. He was a monster in that game in St. Louis, helping keep Russian countryman and sniper Vladamir Tarasenko at bay. It’s hard to remember sometimes that Provorov is just the ripe, old age of 20. At 20, he’s the unquestioned leader of the Flyers’ defense, and rightfully so.  

• The first 50 minutes of the loss to the previously winless Coyotes on Monday was some of the ugliest hockey we’ve seen the Flyers play in a long, long time. No one on the same page. Absolutely nothing in sync. Passes all over the place. Breakdowns aplenty. The list could go on and on and on. To say the effort was lifeless would be quite the understatement. Of course, it’s harder to get up and get motivated for a winless, less-than-sexy team like Arizona. But still, that was inexcusable.

• We all watched Brayden Schenn play for five seasons here in Philadelphia. We know he’s not a dirty player. A physical player always looking to drop a hit whenever he can? Absolutely. But not dirty. But that hit in St. Louis on Sean Couturier was unacceptable.

Fortunately, Couturier only had the wind knocked out of him and came back later in the game, but that hit was late, high and incredibly dangerous. Schenn was given a two-minute minor for interference on the play, which speaks to a more general issue around the league.

That’s exactly the type of hit the NHL wants to eradicate from the game, yet only a two-minute penalty is given? What message does that send? You can knock another player out, but it’s OK, you didn’t do that much wrong? Stiffer penalties, both during and following games, are steps to getting rid of those hits.

• Captain Claude Giroux said it best following the shootout loss the Avs (see video) — The Flyers could really use the upcoming four days off after playing a stretch of seven games in 11 days that included a visit to Canada and a journey to Chicago and St. Louis on back-to-back nights. The stretch of four games in six days this past week was especially grueling. And to top it all off, it seemed like a Flyer was getting nicked up at every turn Saturday night against the Avs. These four days off will be refreshing for a team that’s already been ravaged by injuries at different points this season. We may not like having four days without Flyers hockey to watch, but the Flyers will certainly take it.

Coming up this week: Thursday vs. Chicago (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Minnesota (7 p.m. on NBCSP+)

Best of NHL: Brian Boyle's emotional goal helps Devils beat Canucks

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Best of NHL: Brian Boyle's emotional goal helps Devils beat Canucks

NEWARK, N.J. -- Brian Boyle scored one of the most meaningful goals of his career to help the New Jersey Devils beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 on Friday night.

The Devils were marking "Hockey Fights Cancer Night," a battle especially meaningful to Boyle, who was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia during training camp and missed the first 10 games of the season while undergoing treatment.

The Prudential Center erupted with cheers when Boyle, set up by a beautiful drop pass from Will Butcher, scored at 10:17 of the second period to snap a 1-1 tie.

Taylor Hall got the second assist as part of his big night. The Devils' leading scorer had a goal and two assists as the Devils picked up points in a third straight game (2-0-1).

Damon Severson also scored for New Jersey and Cory Schneider made 23 saves to improve to 6-1-2 against the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 2004.

The win gave the Devils a sweep of the two-game season series, having beaten the Canucks 2-0 in Vancouver on Nov. 1 (see full recap).

Pastrnak goal in 3rd lifts Bruins past Penguins
BOSTON -- Matt Grzelcyk scored his first career goal, David Krejci had a goal and an assist and the Boston Bruins stretched their season-long winning streak to four straight in a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

David Pastrnak's goal on a breakaway 5:06 into the third broke a 3-all tie and Anton Khudobin shut out the Penguins the rest of the way to win his fourth straight start. Khudobin finished with 17 saves for Boston, which outshot Pittsburgh 33-20 and has its longest winning streak of the season.

Sydney Crosby had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, which rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to tie it with three goals in the second period. Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel also scored for the Penguins, who lost their third straight.

After being outshot 14-4 in the first period, Pittsburgh pulled within 2-1 just 1:02 into the second on a one-timer by Jake Guentzel with assists by Crosby and Kris Letang.

Grzelcyk put Boston back up 3-1 at 10:31 of the second, when Krejci misfired on a slap shot from the blue line and the puck slowly, found Grzelcyk for a wrist shot that hit Murray's glove and continued into the net. Grzelcyk is the seventh Boston player to score his first career goal this season (see full recap).

Atkinson scores twice as Columbus tops Ottawa
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cam Atkinson scored twice to lift Columbus over the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Friday night, extending the Blue Jackets' league-high winning streak to six games.

Sergei Bobrovsky turned back 24 shots for his 14th win in 19 starts. Columbus improved to 15-7-1 and leads the Metropolitan Division with 31 points.

Ottawa's Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots as the Senators (8-7-6) lost their fifth straight.

Tom Pyatt got the scoring started off the Senators' second shot in the first period, taking a cross-crease pass from a driving Derick Brassard and going top shelf over Bobrovsky's left shoulder. It was Pyatt's fourth goal of the season, assisted also by Mark Stone.

Atkinson tied the score less than 30 seconds later, stealing the puck from Alex Burrows just inside the Jackets' blue line and creating his own breakaway. He slipped the puck under Anderson's left skate for his fifth goal of the season. It was Atkinson's first score in eight games.

A shot got behind Bobrovsky 17 seconds into the second period but was swept off the goal line by Boone Jenner without crossing (see full recap).

Streaking Jets roll past Ducks on Ehlers' 2 goals
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Nikolaj Ehlers scored two goals in the game's first 5 minutes, and the streaking Winnipeg Jets went on to beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Friday.

The Jets have won six of their last seven.

Bryan Little also had a goal and two assists for Winnipeg. Ehler added an assist to his two goals. Kyle Connor scored an empty-net goal from the red line, his sixth goal of the season.

Conner Hellebuyck stopped 30 shots for the Jets.

Anaheim's lone goal came from Francois Beauchemin. John Gibson stopped 34 of 36 shots for the Ducks.

Winnipeg scored on two of its three power plays, while Anaheim was unable to score during its two man-advantage situations.

The Jets went up 3-1 on a power play midway through the second period, Little slipping one past Gibson. Little assisted on Winnipeg's first two goals (see full recap).

Latest loss forcing Flyers to reexamine narrative

Latest loss forcing Flyers to reexamine narrative

BOX SCORE

Black Friday is that designated day after Thanksgiving when buyers are enticed to something special they wouldn’t be able to get any other day of the year.

Instead, Flyers fans got a whole lot more of the same. Same blown lead. Same defensive breakdown in overtime. Same result in the standings.

The Flyers fell, 5-4, in overtime to the Islanders for their seventh straight loss Friday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

In fact, Black Friday looks and feels similar to Groundhog Day right now.

“We obviously have to work on it,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “It’s the definition of insanity if you keep doing the same thing over and over again. We have to change some things and talk about it because these are big points and they can come back and hurt us.”

Right now, it hurts to watch. During the Flyers' current seven-game losing streak, their longest stretch of winless hockey since 2008, they’ve lost four of those games after regulation and they’ve held a lead in each of their last five games — and a two-goal lead in three of their last five.

“If you’re looking for a confidence level on this side of the TV, I can’t give you one,” Elliott said. “Everybody here is battling their own battles and trying to do their jobs. You don’t make it to this level without being able to handle things like this and being able to handle the ups and downs.”

Sure, you can cite the first-year players on defense for some of the late-game breakdowns. After all, there’s a rookie on every pairing, but the veterans have been just as culpable throughout this two-week skid. Jake Voracek has blown assignments on two of the overtime losses, including Nick Leddy’s OT winner Friday.

“Mistakes, personal mistakes,” Voracek said, “It is simple. Leddy was open there. He is my guy. I got caught puck watching. I didn’t cover my guy and got scored on. My bad.”

“I don’t know if it is a lack of confidence,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think we kind of get away from our game. I think it is just up to us to own it and finish the game.”

After the game, and perhaps equally as disturbing, is how Dave Hakstol has spin-doctored the past four weeks. As he opened up his postgame comments, he made it sound as if the team should be patted on the back on their way out the Wells Fargo Center door.

“You got to evaluate it for what it is," Hakstol said. "I think in seven of our last ten we’ve gotten a point. Five of those are shootout or overtime losses.”

So, let’s evaluate it for what it is. The Flyers have collected just nine points in those 10 games. Spread that out over an 82-game season and you finish up in the 74-point range. That usually secures a top-five lottery pick, not a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Accumulating a point here and there is presenting a silver lining where one doesn’t exist.

Instead, the Flyers have won just four of their last 17 games. That’s the picture that needs to be painted and winning hockey games is the only solution to this problem.

“I really believe we’re going to learn from this,” Claude Giroux said. “We’re going to get a better team and we’re going to get back in a playoff spot.”

If the Flyers don’t heed the captain’s words soon, then this season will feel more like a Black Monday, that October day in 1987 when the stock market crashed.

I'll take 6 for 600
Giroux became the 10th player in Flyers history to record 600 points with the franchise. Giroux now sits one point from tying and two points from passing Rod Brind’Amour for ninth place on the Flyers' all-time scoring list.

Johnny on the overtime spot
Islanders captain John Tavares has been New York’s overtime spark plug. On Wednesday, Tavares put on a dazzling display fighting off Sean Couturier before firing a cross-ice pass to Josh Bailey, who scored the overtime winner at Barclays Center. Friday, Tavares was the on the ice again and registered the secondary assist on Leddy’s goal.

“Three-on-three, I don’t think there’s a guy other than maybe (Connor) McDavid that I would take Johnny over," Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal said. "Obviously, he’s one of the most skilled players in the league. I think we got a really skilled team up front. I’ll take us 3-on-3 against anybody."