Flyers

Flyers Weekly Observations: Tough call in Ottawa still leaving a bad taste

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Tough call in Ottawa still leaving a bad taste

Well, that was quite an interesting week for the Flyers, now wasn’t it?

It was one that had nowhere to go but up after it started, but still had unforeseen plot twists and turns along the way.

The week started Tuesday with a 6-2 dud of a loss to the Anaheim Ducks to finish off a five-game homestand, continued with a tough-to-swallow 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators and ended on a high note with a 4-2 victory over the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering what unfolded late in the game Thursday night in Ottawa, you probably have a good idea of where this week’s observations are starting.

So let’s jump right in.

• Let’s be blunt here right off the bat: The Flyers were hosed, bamboozled, swindled, sandbagged or whatever else you want to call it out of the game-tying goal late in the third period Thursday in Ottawa by one of the dumbest rules in sports.

The NHL’s “intent to blow the whistle” rule is just illogical in every single sense and Sean Couturier was the latest victim of it. Just the wording “intent to blow the whistle” is dumbfounding. So a play, in this case, a game-altering play, is ruled by something someone intends to do. Not something someone actually does, but something someone intends to do. What? Seriously? We all intend to do a lot of things. Doesn’t mean they get done. The puck was across the line before there was a whistle; it was a goal.  How many more times does this have to happen before the league realizes that something is inherently wrong here? Imagine a Stanley Cup Final game getting decided because of that. Just let the players play and let the play end when it ends.

Yet, here’s the other fact: The Flyers can’t be falling behind by three goals multiple times in a game like they did against the Sens. They were just flat as can be right out of the gate and dug themselves a hole. Not many things tend to go your way when you do that. And that’s the salt in the wound of the play that didn’t go the Flyers’ way. They scratched and clawed their way back into the game multiple times only for that call to basically take away at least a point from them.

• Have to love the power move Jakub Voracek pulled out of his bag of tricks for his goal in Toronto on Saturday evening. Good things tend to happen when you take the puck to the net, especially as hard and strong as Voracek did on that particular play. Voracek can be deceptively strong, even more so when he’s going to work in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. He’s got a natural knack for protecting the puck. So you always like to see him make plays like that.

You can say what you want about Voracek’s goal-scoring numbers as he  has only two on the season with the first coming Thursday in Ottawa, but he’s still been a major cog in a Flyers offense that’s averaging 3.45 goals, seventh in the league as of Sunday evening. And Voracek is second in the league with 14 assists. He leads the Flyers with 16 points. The goals may not be there yet, but he’s still producing at a hefty clip. And if this week was any indication, the goals will be coming.

• The Flyers need to be holding their collective breath when it comes to Shayne Gostisbehere’s injury. “Ghost” left the game against the Maple Leafs after absorbing a hard hit in the second. Gostisbehere is such a unique talent. He’s a dynamic magician with the puck, especially in the offensive zone. And, of course, he has that booming rocket of a shot from the point. There aren’t many other players in the league who can do what “Ghost” can. Needless to say, it would be a huge loss if Gostisbehere were to be out for an extended period of time. That would be a gigantic hole on a Flyers defense that is already hurting. He has but a single goal, but also has 12 assists on the year.

• This week saw the Flyers lay their first egg of the season with Tuesday’s shellacking they took from the Ducks, a power in the Western Conference when healthy, just like they were at the Wells Fargo Center. An 82-game season is one long, winding journey with many bumps along the way. Duds like that are inevitable. They happen to every team.

But the continued rejuvenation of Couturier’s offensive prowess was on full display during that game with a beauty of a breakaway tally and a slam dunk off a beautiful set-up by Travis Sanheim. Couturier has been a revelation for the Flyers so far this season. Yes, skating alongside playmakers such as Voracek and Claude Giroux helps, but Couturier’s confidence with the puck and around the net can be easily seen. He scored on a lovely tip against the Sens and should have had another, but, well, you know...

Anyway, raise your hands if you had Couturier leading the Flyers with seven goals through 11 games. Not many hands raised, I see.

• Here’s a scheduling quirk: Starting with Monday’s game vs. Arizona, the Flyers won’t play another Eastern Conference team until Nov. 23 when they visit the New York Islanders. That’s a stretch of nine straight vs. the West. In fact, 17 of the Flyers’ first 21 games are vs. Western foes. Might as well save the most important games for later on, right?

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Arizona (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday at Chicago (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Thursday at St. Louis (8:00 p.m. on NBCSP). Saturday vs. Colorado (7 p.m. on NBCSP)

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.