Flyers

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers hockey is finally back in our lives.

Feels pretty darn good to say that, right? It’s been too long.

You guys know what else is back?

Flyers Weekly Observations! Woo-hoo!

I know, it’s so hard to contain your excitement. I understand.

Anyway, the Flyers started things off with a bang with a hard-fought 5-3 win on opening night Wednesday in San Jose vs. the Sharks, endured a tough 2-0 loss Thursday evening vs. the Kings in Los Angeles and finished up the California portion of the trip with a strong 3-2 OT victory over the Ducks in Anaheim Saturday night.

Still sleepy from staying up for all those West Coast games?

That’s OK because there’s plenty to discuss after a busy first week of the season. Let’s hop right into it, shall we?

• Through all the change the Flyers have gone through both externally with player movement and internally with line changes, prospects filtering themselves into more prominent roles and veterans still in orange and black losing a step in the eyes of some, one constant has remained a driving force — Wayne Simmonds. He picked up right where he left off with his hat trick Wednesday at the Shark Tank. He was right there in his office in front of the net, deflecting two pucks from the point past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. His second tally on the evening was as stealthy as it gets as he tipped a chest-high shot right by Jones. But here’s the thing you have to like about his empty-netter to seal the victory — sure, it was an empty-netter, but Simmonds is trusted enough to be out there on the 4-on-4 as the Flyers desperately nursed a one-goal lead. He also played 3:30 of shorthanded time in that game. Yes, he’s a goal-scorer, but he’s the Flyers’ Mr. Do-It-All. He’s their steady rock. And that OT winner in Anaheim was just an another example of the complete player he is who possesses a heck of a wrister.  

• Let’s get into the kids now. Specifically, the ones who patrol the blue line. I questioned the decision to bring Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin to California only for both to be healthy scratches in the opener vs. San Jose. Sanheim eventually got in Thursday in L.A. (more on that in a bit) and stayed in for the OT triumph in Anaheim. But Morin has yet to suit up this season and play. What’s the point of having him there if he’s not going to play? These are important times in the development of a 22-year-old defenseman who already has to live with the pressures that come with being a high first-round pick. If he’s not playing with the big club, he should be getting reps in Lehigh Valley. The guy needs to be playing somewhere, not sitting somewhere.

• So, now, back to Sanheim, who made his debut at STAPLES Center on Thursday evening. The nerves were obviously there for the 21-year-old, especially early on as he tried to get his legs underneath him. And that’s to be expected. Try and put yourself in his shoes, or, in this case, his skates. You would feel the same way. The nerves should be there. But the game was a tougher one for Sanheim, as he tried to get adjusted to regular-season NHL speed and precision all night and wound up taking a bad four-minute high-sticking call in the third. He was critical of himself and his play afterward, saying he needed to be better. And you have to like that out of a kid, especially after his first game. He wasn’t happy just being there. He rebounded with a solid outing Saturday night in Anaheim. He can keep building and keep getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. He’s got the right attitude.

• Speaking of the kids, how about keeping Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny on the same line for a long, long time?

• One area that had my particular interest coming into this week was the goaltending. Both how each goaltender played and how head coach Dave Hakstol would rotate them because you just knew he would split the starts one way or another. I will say that I’m still not sold on the Brian Elliott-Michal Neuvirth tandem, but each was very solid in net this week in their respective starts. Elliott hung in there in a tough environment in San Jose and earned the victory with 32 stops. Perhaps his best one came in the first period when Kevin LeBanc found himself all alone with a loose puck in front of the net and Elliott stuck out the arm to make an impressive stop. Neuvirth was very good the next night in Los Angeles as he took a hard-luck loss with 25 saves. That incredible sprawling stop he made on Anze Kopitar, though? My groin hurts more and more every time I watch it. Elliott retook the reins Saturday in Anaheim and excelled with 21 saves in the OT triumph. So, while Neuvirth played well in Hollywood, Elliott is still the one with two victories. Knowing how Hakstol tends to ride the hot hand in net, don’t be surprised to see Elliott see the fair share of starts coming up. Speaking of goaltending, how good was Jonathan Quick on Thursday? When healthy, he’s got a legit claim to being the best goalie in the NHL.

• Have to like what we’ve seen from the Flyers’ newfangled top line of Claude Giroux on left wing, Sean Couturier at center and Jake Voracek on the right wing. The triumvirate opened the scoring on the season with Giroux’s first-period tally in San Jose and has combined for two goals, seven assists, nine points and 21 shots on goal on the young season. Keep that kind of offensive pressure up and the goal numbers will come. And remember, those three could still benefit from more time to jell together.

• Mr. NHL Schedule Maker did the Flyers no favors to start the season. The California hell trip is hard enough, but then two of those games were the opponent’s home opener. The cherry on top: a trip to Nashville for the Predators’ opener and Western Conference championship banner ceremony.  But, hey, coming out of Cali with four points ain’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming up this week: Tuesday at Nashville (8 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia), Saturday’s home opener vs. Washington (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia)

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Flyers players lifted their massive equipment bags onto carts outside the visiting locker room of Madison Square Garden.

There wasn't much energy or zealousness to such a mundane task.

Shortly before doing so, the Flyers made skating in the world's most famous arena seem just as mundane, allowing the New York Rangers to turn Broadway into breakaway on Tuesday night to the tune of a 5-1 loss (see observations).

"We just made too many mistakes that cost us," Jakub Voracek said. "Four goals out of five came off our mistakes, so it's tough."

The Rangers, not once, but twice during the first period, bolted behind the Flyers' slow-reacting coverage for nothing but open ice and Brian Elliott to beat. On both occasions, New York scored easily and took control of the evening.

It was a full exploitation of a Flyers team that had won four straight but wasn't "engaged in this game enough," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it.

With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest, Pavel Buchnevich fed a stretch pass to Rick Nash streaking up the middle of the ice, leaving defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the dust. Both the delivery from Buchnevich and the speed of Nash appeared to catch Gudas and Manning by surprise.

"The first one, probably a better read by me and Gudy," Manning said. "We talked before the game, we knew that's what they were going to do, they were going to try and stretch us out. That one we can probably eliminate."

The second was deflating in every way imaginable. As the Flyers sputtered through their first man advantage, a pass behind Jordan Weal bounced off the side boards and right to Peter Holland. With most of the Flyers' second power-play unit pinching on the attack, New York rushed up ice and beat Manning in retreat as Holland hit Paul Carey for a shorthanded marker.

Whatever life the Flyers still had, it was sucked out of them.

At the time, before it unfolded, they seemed to be in OK position. The Flyers were down, 2-1, but vying for an equalizer by turning to their power play, which had been 7 for 14 over the four-game winning streak. However, what transpired was New York taking a surprising 3-1 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

"Those are ones we can prevent," Hakstol said. "They're a good transition team, so when you give them opportunities, whether it's a turnover out of their defensive zone or a turnover entering the zone, they're a good transition team. But our awareness on those plays was not what it needs to be.

"I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas of the game that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team."

The Rangers showed it some more when they went on another semi-breakaway, this time midway through the second period for a 4-1 edge. Michael Grabner came swooping in to pick Voracek's pocket before quickly flicking a shot past Elliott, who watched another blue jersey barrel down untouched toward his crease.

"We put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game," Hakstol said.

The goalie making his 18th start in the last 19 games still took blame.

"It's not the easiest way, but that's my job," Elliott, who was yanked ahead of the third period, said. "I didn't have them tonight. Go back to work and try to feel good about my game. That's not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn't really give ourselves a chance to win and I've got to own a lot of that."

Tuesday marked the Flyers' first outing against the Rangers this season.

Were they surprised by the opposition's transition game?

"No," Hakstol said.

Manning sounded like he will be far more ready when the Flyers come back to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18 for the second of four meetings.

"I don't know if surprising is the right word, they have some guys who can skate and I think we were expecting that," Manning said. "We haven't played them this year, it's the first time. When you see it for the first time, it's something a little different."

The Flyers on Thursday night will see the Maple Leafs for the third time. The previous two matchups were won by the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Manning had his best game of the season with a goal, an assist and three hits in the October victory, while rookie blueliner Travis Sanheim played in the December win.

Hakstol will have to decide between the two for Thursday.

One will be an extra, the other will want to make sure breakaways are at a minimum.

Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

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Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

NEW YORK -- Damon Severson scored twice 1:26 apart in New Jersey's three-goal second period, and the Devils ended a six-game skid with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall also scored for New Jersey, which was 0-3-3 since beating Detroit at home on Dec. 27. Keith Kinkaid, getting the start after Cory Schneider was a late scratch due to illness, stopped 25 shots.

Anders Lee scored and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves as the Islanders snapped a three-game winning streak that started with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Devils here on Jan. 7.

New Jersey trailed less than two minutes in but got four straight goals starting with Palmieri's score late in the first period.

Halak, who faced more than 35 shots on goal for his 10th straight start, made nice stops on in-close tries by Brian Boyle and Brian Gibbons with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the middle period to keep the score tied.

However, Severson gave the Devils the lead about 30 seconds later as he got the rebound of a shot by Gibbons and beat Halak from the right circle. It was the defenseman's fifth goal of the season and first in 12 games (see full recap).

Spezza scores 2 after benching in Stars’ win
DETROIT -- Jason Spezza responded to being benched by scoring two tiebreaking goals on power plays, helping the Dallas Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Tuesday night.

Spezza scored on a lunging, one-timer below the left circle with 5:52 left in the second period. His first goal came on a redirected shot midway through the first.

The 33-year-old forward was a healthy scratch on Monday when Dallas won at Boston in overtime. He bounced back by ending his 14-game goal drought, scoring twice in a game for the first time since March 12, 2016. Spezza scored 33 goals just two years ago and has 323 career goals.

Dallas' Radek Faksa and Martin Hanzal also scored. Ben Bishop stopped 13 shots for the Stars, who have won six of eight.

Trevor Daley put Detroit ahead in the opening minute, but Faksa redirected a shot past Jimmy Howard at 2:48. Andreas Athanasiou pulled the Red Wings into a 2-all tie midway through the second period and Spezza's second goal 2:25 later put Dallas ahead 3-2.

Howard had 22 saves for the Red Wings, who had won five of their previous seven games (see full recap).

Blues rally late for overtime victory
TORONTO -- Alexander Steen tied it with 57 seconds left and Vince Dunn scored 1:43 into overtime, lifting the St. Louis Blues over the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Connor Brown put Toronto ahead on a short-handed breakaway midway through the third period, but Steen scored with goalie Carter Hutton pulled for an extra attacker by backhanding Alex Pieterangelo's rebound past Frederik Andersen.

Dunn snapped a low shot past Andersen after choosing to keep the puck on a 2-on-1.

Andersen stopped 40 shots and Hutton had 30 saves.

It was the Maple Leafs' first game back after the bye week. Their last game was a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 10 (see full recap).