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)

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Sunday afternoon for Game 6 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-2)
3 p.m. on NBC; Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSP+ with Postgame Live after final buzzer

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise

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

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

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

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

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

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

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Ivan Provorov
The Flyers' minute-munching defenseman was dinged up in the final 90 seconds of the Game 5 win. Provorov's presence is vital if the Flyers want to push the series to a Game 7. He logged 30 minutes in Game 5 and the Flyers needed him on the ice during the final minute when Sidney Crosby nearly tied the game. Provorov hasn’t missed a game in his two-year career, and while I don’t expect him to miss Game 6, watch closely to see if he’s limited in any way.

Bold prediction: Game 6 will be decided in overtime. You have to go back to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Devils to find the Flyers' last playoff game decided in overtime — a stretch of 20 straight in the postseason. As poorly as the Flyers have played on home ice in this series, Game 6 will be competitive as Michal Neuvirth will turn in another solid effort to keep the game close.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on:
Flyers on home ice​
The Penguins have outscored the Flyers, 20-4, in eight games at the Wells Fargo Center this season, including the playoffs. No one thought there would be a Game 6, yet here we are. The Flyers extended their season one more game, but how will they fare on home ice? Home ice hasn't treated the Flyers well vs. Pittsburgh; they have to figure it out today.

Bold prediction: The Flyers are so unpredictable. With that said, I don't see this series going back to Pittsburgh. This one will be close; perhaps the Flyers even take the lead. But in the end, the Penguins come out on top, and the Flyers schedule their vacations.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Michal Neuvirth
Neuvirth is arguably the most important player on the ice for the Flyers. With the lineup employed, the Flyers are trying to muddy things up in an attempt to force the Penguins out of their style. A more physical, low-risk approach keeps the Flyers in it, but to play such a game, you desperately need your goalie to do his part. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 with 133 saves on 137 shots for a 1.01 goals-against average in his last four playoff starts. Can he have sustained success against these Penguins?

Bold prediction: The team that has scored first has won every game of the series. That will change in Game 6 as momentum swings will be felt at a lively, pressure-filled Wells Fargo Center.

Recommended reading
• Flyers' fate lies with Neuvirth ... and that's a good thing

• Hakstol's unconventional decisions keep season alive

• With Giroux's story, heroic Couturier pulls a Pronger

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

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AP Images

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — And now comes the real test.

Watch the Flyers one night and they may look unbeatable. The next night they’ll come out flatter than Kyrie Irving’s view of Earth.  

The Flyers, maddeningly inconsistent at times — OK, most of the time — will need to build off of Friday’s Game 5 win to keep the series alive with a win in Sunday’s Game 6.

It’s now or never for these Flyers.

After steamrolling the Penguins in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, the Flyers returned to home ice with all the momentum in the world. And we all know what happened next. A 5-1 drubbing in Game 3, a loss seemingly dolled out before the horn sounded after the first period.

This time around, though, the orange and black will have a huge upgrade they were dearly missing in Games 3 and 4.

Goalie Michal Neuvirth. Yes, that’s right, the oft-injured Neuvirth is the Flyers’ best and only hope of forcing a Game 7. That’s not a hot take, either. Just check out the numbers.

Neuvirth’s playoff numbers are staggering. His .930 career playoff save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average rank third and fourth, respectively, among active goalies. 

“I just enjoy playing in the playoffs,” Neuvirth said of his ability to ramp up his play in the postseason. “Crowds been unreal in Pittsburgh and at home so it’s just so fun playing in the playoffs. I had success in the past, even in the AHL so I believe in myself that I can bring my A-game on the big stage.”

The fact is, Neuvirth — when healthy — is the only goalie on the Flyers’ roster capable of delivering that brick-wall, game-stealing performance for the team.

Playing his first full game since Feb. 16, Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 shots in Game 5, including the ones that mattered most. 

The 30-year-old stoned the Pens’ blazing powerplay, as the penalty kill went a perfect 5 for 5. The Pens came into the game 5 for 19 with the man advantage, but the stability of Neuvirth, as well as the return of Sean Couturier, stifled the attack.

“We knew Neuvy was gonna come in and play big for us,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s a playoff goaltender.”

And he did just that in Game 5. With the extra attacker, Neuvirth robbed Sidney Crosby of a soul-crushing, game-tying goal in the waning seconds of the game to send the series back to Philly.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said after the 4-2 win. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Of course, that was all just one game. 

But with the Flyers facing elimination, one more game is all the team can ask for.