Flyers

Kings coach John Stevens reflects on Flyers' tenure, growth as leader

Kings coach John Stevens reflects on Flyers' tenure, growth as leader

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — When John Stevens steps behind the bench tonight for the Kings' home opener against the Flyers, it will be 2,862 days since the last time he found himself in this same position (without the interim tag) in the National Hockey League … with the Flyers, no less.

“It’s been so long now,” the 51-year-old Stevens said Thursday. “Seven years have passed since I coached there. I spent a long time in Philadelphia. I have an enormous amount of respect for the organization. It’s always an exciting matchup because it’s a historic franchise. We’re looking forward to it.”

Perhaps there’s a sense of irony that Stevens' first game back will come against the organization who relieved him of his duties on Dec. 4, 2009, following a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on home ice. That was a Flyers team struggling to find an identity — with a 13-11-1 record at the time of Stevens' firing — following the offseason acquisition of defenseman Chris Pronger. Optimism was high as then-general manager Paul Holmgren assembled a team he believed could dethrone the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference, and Stevens was well aware of the expectations.

“I think just incorporating everybody there, getting them on the same page and just dealing with the whole leadership issue is something I may have tackled a little differently, but if you look back, we got off to a great start that year, we had some injuries, and then we let it slip away after that great start," Stevens said. "Clearly, I didn’t do enough to get that ship righted when we had such a good start."

Stevens was tasked with plugging holes during the shipwreck of 2006-07 when general manager Bob Clarke stepped down and Ken Hitchcock was fired on the same Sunday morning just nine days into the regular season. Stevens was given the head coaching job on an interim basis and proceeded to navigate his way through that tumultuous year as the Flyers finished with just 56 points, a whopping 45-point decline from the previous season.

Beginning Thursday night, Stevens takes over a situation with a Kings organization looking for a similar turnaround after missing the playoffs two of the last three seasons. Despite winning two Stanley Cup championships under Darryl Sutter, the Kings' players are embracing Stevens after the relationship between the players and their former coach had developed such animosity that at one point the Kings' players reportedly locked Sutter out of the dressing room.

“It’s definitely refreshing to hear his voice behind the bench,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said of Stevens.

“He was my positional coach for a long time,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “When he first came in, we had a few bumping head issues, me and him, but ever since those issues got smoothed out, it’s been smooth sailing from then on. He’s taught me a lot about being a professional and being a leader on the team. He’s also helped me a lot with my on-ice stuff, too. He’s a very smart hockey mind. He knows a lot about the game and he cares a lot about his players, and he wants the best for everyone.”

For a coach that has been just as attached to X’s and O’s as a giddy high school couple, Stevens has also exuded leadership throughout his hockey career. He captained the Phantoms to the Calder Cup in 1997, coached them to a championship in 2005, and has passed down that leadership skill set to his two sons: John Stevens Jr. and Nolan Stevens, both of whom have worn the “C” at Northeastern University in Boston.

But what Doughty and the Stevens' boys have imparted to John is a personal element that comes into coaching that perhaps wasn’t nearly as evident during his days with the Flyers.

“Relationships have always been important," Stevens said. "I’ve been a captain on every team I’ve played on, so I think that you’re a coach within the locker room. But seeing my kids play at a high level, you see how important feedback is to them. I think it’s really brought it more so to my attention. I think through my experiences of successes and failures, I maybe delve into those relationships, especially with older players, more so than I did before. I think all players appreciate being coached and all players appreciate feedback.”

Derailing the 'Wayne Train'
Wayne Simmonds got the best of reigning Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Brent Burns Wednesday night. Simmonds gets a crack at another one of the league’s top blueliners in Doughty, who won the Norris Trophy in 2016. Doughty is well aware of the problems Simmonds presents.  

“He does his magic around the net, and he definitely makes his living in front of the net,” Doughty said. “There’s not much you can do on a power play besides block shots or get under his stick. They've got a good power play and he’s a big reason to that. You've just got to play him hard because you know how hard he’s going to play every night. He’s a competitive guy. You've got to battle him hard. It’s going to be a tough job, but he’s not going to hat trick tonight.”

Tragedy ... again
The Los Angeles Kings organization was devastated once again when 22-year-old Christina Duarte, a native of nearby Redondo Beach, California, was one of nearly 60 people killed at the country music festival across from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday. Duarte had recently graduated from college and was working her first full-time job — as a fan service associate with the organization.

Duarte’s death comes 16 years after the Kings organization tragically lost “Ace” Bailey who was flying aboard United flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Bailey served as the team’s director of pro scouting. 

The Kings' players will wear a heart-shaped “CD” sticker on the back of their helmets and the team’s personnel will wear a pin to honor Duarte’s memory. 

“For sure, it’s going to be emotional,” Kopitar said. “Obviously, it’s very sad times. We'll use that as a positive energy.”

The Kings are donating their 50/50 raffle from Thursday’s game against the Flyers to the Las Vegas Victims’ Fund.

Here come Flyers with nasty OT combo

Here come Flyers with nasty OT combo

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — It may have taken eight straight unsuccessful overtime periods, but Dave Hakstol has finally found a deadly combination.

For the second time this week, the trio of Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov scored on the opening shift of OT, as the Flyers beat the Washington Capitals, 2-1, at Capital One Arena Sunday, while also earning their third straight win (see observations).

Konecny knifed his way through a defender along the wall before cutting to the middle and beating Caps goaltender Braden Holtby with a snap shot from between the circles. Just three days ago, it was Couturier who connected 18 seconds into overtime of Thursday’s 3-2 victory against the Maple Leafs.

“We got a good opportunity and we capitalized on it," Couturier said. “It’s all about starting with the puck and trying to control it. We did a good job of hanging onto it.”

“We’re just finding ways to win hockey games,” Konecny said. “They’re tough games to win when you’re playing against good teams. We’re just keeping things simple and trusting our abilities. I know that those two are on the defensive side of things, and Coots makes sure I know that every time by giving me a heads up to stay below my guy in the defensive zone. It just seems to be clicking right now.”

The offensive-minded Konecny has now scored goals in back-to-back games for just the second time in his career with the previous occasion coming in November 2016 of his rookie season.  

The victory was also the Flyers' seventh in their last eight games, which propelled them back into a playoff spot for the first time since Nov. 11, a day that coincided with the start of the team’s 10-game winless streak. Currently, the Flyers occupy the first wild-card position and are just a point behind Columbus for one of three automatic berths in the Metropolitan Division (see standings)

“It’s about finding the way to get the win and I think earlier in the season that was one of the issues is that we didn’t find a way,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We were playing good hockey, but we didn’t find ways. Now, we’re finding ways and we can’t stop here.”

“It’s big and I think if we keep going on the same track, we’ll keep plugging away at teams above us,” said goaltender Brian Elliott, who made 27 saves on 28 shots. “We've got to keep our heads looking forward and not behind us. We can be our best and our worst enemy.” 

Right now, the Flyers have the luxury of relying on two steady goaltenders. Michal Neuvirth has won his last three starts, allowing just four goals, and Elliott looked refreshed in just his third start over a two-week period after receiving some extended rest with the bye week.

“He was sure sharp tonight,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “As much as rest, it’s just a day or two of maintenance work. When you play as much hockey as Moose has played for us, you don’t get those quality practice days in. Sometimes you forget the value of just good, simple work.”

“I think it’s the confidence level right now. Obviously, Moose and Neuvy stepped up over the last couple of games and they played outstanding,” said Michael Raffl, who scored his ninth goal that gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead. “When you have good goaltending, you have a chance to win every game in this league.”

Impressively, the Flyers (23-16-8) have three different three-game winning streaks in which they’ve been forced to play three games over a four-day period. The first set of three came on their Western Canada road trip beginning in Calgary. They also ripped off three straight victories in four days leading into their bye week.

“I think it’s just guys battling through that extra step, that extra fight. That’s what you want,” Couturier said. “You don’t want to just sit back and try to save your energy. You've got to push and push through it and fight for your chances.”

“That’s a real credit to the players with their preparation,” Hakstol said. “The mental side is about your preparation, especially a 12:30 p.m. game is a little bit different routine. I thought the first period was going to be one of the keys to this game. Our checking and our brains were turned on that way. Getting through that first period made us a better team with the puck and pushing the game in our direction.”

The Flyers have two more games before the All-Star break as they travel to Detroit on Tuesday before hosting the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Flyers complete weekend sweep of Metro's top-2 teams

Flyers complete weekend sweep of Metro's top-2 teams

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON — For the first time since Nov. 11, the Flyers are back in a playoff spot.

The Flyers earned their third straight win and their seventh in their last eight games Sunday afternoon after knocking off the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals 2-1 at Capital One Arena.

Travis Konecny connected on the opening shift in overtime as he took the puck away in the neutral zone, cut to the middle of the ice and scored on a shot that deflected off Caps forward T.J. Oshie.

Konecny now has four goals in his last eight games.

Goaltender Brian Elliott made 27 saves to earn the victory in net.

Michael Raffl opened the scoring with his ninth goal of the season and his third in his last eight games, and Alex Ovechkin tied with a power-play goal in the second period.

The Flyers have beaten the Capitals in the first two games of their season series and the two teams will renew their rivalry Jan. 31 in Washington.

• The Flyers kept the Capitals' offense on the perimeter until Ovechkin picked the puck right off of Ivan Provorov’s stick, which ignited a 2-on-1 the other way. Ovechkin took the shot with the rebound kicking right out to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who fired the puck right into Elliott’s pad. The puck was bouncing and rolling on its side, otherwise, I think Kuznetsov would have been able to finish that play.  

• With the Flyers clogging the middle of the ice by placing a forward between the circles, the Capitals were looking to challenge Elliott with some sharp angle shots in the first period. The shot chart from naturalstattrick.com highlights where in the Flyers' zone the Caps were firing from with the bright orange circles indicating a higher frequency of shots.

For the most part, Elliott had some rather routine saves until the final five minutes of the opening period when the Capitals were able to find the soft areas in the slot. Dave Hakstol was able to utilize the Valtteri Filppula line against Ovechkin for most of the first period keeping his chances at a minimum, except for this chance late in the period.

• The Flyers were trying to get Capitals pest Tom Wilson off his game in the opening period. Provorov laid out Wilson with a perfectly-timed shoulder-to-shoulder hit leveling him to the ice and Konecny doing some major chirping with Wilson in an attempt to get under his skin until Wilson had enough and gave Konecny a nudge. Sure enough, Wilson showed his true colors with a tripping penalty in the first 10 seconds of the second period.

• I liked how the Flyers came out and dictated the pace in the second period, outshooting the Capitals 6-2 in the first six minutes. The Filppula-Michael Raffl-Jakub Voracek line was the Flyers' best line throughout the first half and finally exposed the Caps' top line with a strong forecheck that resulted in Raffl’s 1-0 goal from the left circle. Raffl’s shot placement was perfect as he elevated it just enough to graze the top of Braden Holtby’s pad and ricocheted into the net.

• Tyrell Goulbourne took his first penalty late in the second period when Jay Beagle was hooked in the act of shooting. I didn’t think it was a bad penalty on Goulbourne’s part considering the close range of Beagle’s shot, but the play evolved as defenseman Brandon Manning was stripped cleanly behind his net by Caps fourth-line forward Jake Vrana.

• If you thought the save on Ovechkin was solid, Elliott may have topped it as he turned aside Nicklas Backstrom from the low slot with a full extension kick out of the pads. However, Claude Giroux was guilty of slashing Backstrom that put the Capitals back on the power play, which led to vintage Ovechkin, who ripped home his ninth power-play goal of the season and No. 587 of his career, tying the game at 1-1.

• Shayne Gostisbehere put together another solid game following his performance against the Devils. Ghost blocked an Ovechkin shot with his stick early in the third period where Ovechkin had a clear break coming down the left wing.

• On Ghost’s next shift, he made a superb defensive play filling the middle of the ice, spinning around and using his stick again to spoil a potential high danger chance with Ovechkin looking to drop a pass to Kuznetsov. 

• Dmitri Orlov, Kuznetsov and Oshie applied some real hard pressure to the Flyers' defense including a give-and-go from Orlov to Backstrom. Kuznetsov was wheeling around the offensive zone in the third period and was a tough to contain for the Flyers' defense.

• Not a good penalty for Raffl to trip up Matt Niskanen on a puck battle along the boards behind the Capitals' net. It put the Caps back on the power play with just over five minutes remaining in regulation of a 1-1 game.