Flyers

Latest loss forcing Flyers to reexamine narrative

Latest loss forcing Flyers to reexamine narrative

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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 10 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."

Flyers goalie Brian Elliott named NHL's third star of the week

Flyers goalie Brian Elliott named NHL's third star of the week

Netminder Brian Elliott was a major key to the Flyers' three-game sweep of the daunting Western Canada. 

And now he's being recognized by the league for his stellar efforts.

The Flyers' goalie on Monday was named third star of the week by the NHL after going 3-0-0 in the team's three games last week and posting a 1.67 goals-against average and a.954 save percentage in the process. He stopped 103 of 108 shots he was peppered with.

Elliott's best effort last week came against his old teammates in Calgary on Monday when he stopped 43 of the Flames' 45 shots on net in a 5-2 victory that snapped the Flyers' ugly 10-game losing streak. He then went on to stop 24 Oilers shots on Wednesday in a 4-2 win and then 36 Canucks shots on Thursday in a 4-1 triumph.

Elliott has been a steadying presence in net all season long for a sputtering Flyers team. In 22 appearances this season, Elliott is 9-6-6 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.

With Michal Neuvirth still on the shelf with a lower-body injury, all signs point to Elliott getting the start in net Tuesday night when the Flyers return home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Blues center Brayden Schenn was named the league's first star of the week. The former Flyer scored six goals last week, including a hat trick in a win over Montreal last Tuesday. Netminder Jake Allen, Schenn's Blues teammate, was named second star after posting a 4-0-0 record, 1.50 goals-against average and .944 save percentage last week.

Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

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Future Flyers Report: Nolan Patrick and the World Junior Championships

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Nolan Patrick, C, 19, 6-2/198, Flyers (NHL)
You might be asking yourself why you’re seeing Patrick’s name in a report about future Flyers. Patrick made the team out of camp and certainly will not be going back to junior, but with the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship approaching, one has to ask if Patrick should be permitted to participate. At 19 years old, Patrick remains eligible for the tournament.

Last Wednesday, Hockey Canada invited 32 players, including Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart, to its selection camp, which takes place Dec. 12-15. Patrick, along with five other NHLers eligible for Canada, were not invited, but NHL teams have until Dec. 19, which is also the NHL’s holiday break roster freeze, to loan players to Team Canada.

Now back to Patrick. On Sunday afternoon, general manager Ron Hextall said the Flyers will not loan Patrick to Team Canada. Since we know the final decision, let's evaluate what the Flyers had to weigh.

1) Patrick’s role with the Flyers
The Flyers have four games during the WJCs, which begin Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 5, 2018. Canada has two pre-tournament games on Dec. 20 and Dec. 22, and if Patrick were permitted to participate, the Flyers would have been without him for seven games. While the Flyers are in a bigger rebuild than expected, they’re not tanking by any means.

Patrick is centering the Flyers’ fourth line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Both Patrick and Konecny’s ice times have dropped during the Flyers’ successful three-game Western Canada trip. We saw Dave Hakstol shorten his bench as he attempted to protect leads and stop the Flyers’ bleeding. In the now, it was the right decision.

The Flyers snapped a 10-game losing streak last Monday in Calgary and then went on to beat Edmonton and Vancouver. Patrick had just two shifts in the third period in Calgary and three Wednesday night in Edmonton. Thursday, in Vancouver, was an improvement in both ice time and play. Still, he played fourth-line minutes.

“You’re seeing a 19-year-old player who needs to become a pro,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told The Inquirer last week. “He’s a kid. He’s played some good hockey for us; he’s [also] played some hockey that’s not up to the level that he’s established even at his age. The consistency part is something he has to get better at.”

2) Would Patrick benefit from participating in the tournament?
It’s an interesting question and it's one many wishes would have an easy answer. But it’s not as easy as anyone would have liked it to be. Patrick hasn’t had the impact many hoped he would, and could benefit from a brief period against his peers.

Before Patrick suffered a suspected concussion, he was flashing his playmaking ability that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, even though he played in just 33 games in his draft year because of two different core muscle injuries. Since returning from his suspected concussion Nov. 16, Patrick still hasn’t had the influence many want to see from him. There have been good games — Nov. 24 against the Islanders was his best thus far in the NHL. But there have been bad games too — Dec. 2 against Boston and last Monday in Calgary stand out the most.

We can argue Patrick is being misused because of his recent ice time, that playing him an average of 8:55 the past three games doesn’t help his development. But that would ignore Patrick has received ample opportunity. Patrick averaged 12:23 in the eight games prior — all losses — and his play didn’t warrant more minutes. There is a fine line between winning and developing, and when the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, Dave Hakstol had to do something. Shortening his bench during the three games in Western Canada wasn’t bad coaching; in fact, it was the opposite.

Patrick doesn’t look like a confident player right now. His advanced metrics are a mess. He has just two goals and six points in 20 games. The truth is, he hasn’t played much competitive hockey over the past year because of his injuries. The World Junior Championships are as competitive as junior hockey gets. Patrick missed last year’s tournament because of injury.

While sending Patrick back to Brandon is still an option — the Flyers have already burned one year of his entry-level contract — it’s not a realistic one. The Flyers felt Patrick proved himself NHL ready in the preseason, and what Patrick needs is to be challenged. Dominating teenagers in the WHL will not help his development.

But the WJCs is a different animal. It’s a collection of the best under-20 players in the world playing for their countries. The competition is as high as it gets in that age group. In that environment, Patrick could have proved to be a man among boys, but he would face a far more competitive atmosphere than he would in the WHL. It would have offered him a chance to regain some confidence and come back to the Flyers with a morale boost.

Conclusion
We know the Flyers are not sending Patrick to the WJCs. It's another sign the Flyers are committed to being as competitive as they can be while they rebuild. Patrick, even in his struggles, is better than the alternative. It's also an indication the Flyers want Patrick in the NHL and learn from what he's going through right now. Patrick needs to be challenged, and since he's not eligible for the AHL, this is what's best for him.

Quick hits
• Another week, another shutout for Hart. Hart picked up his fifth shutout of the year and his 24th career shutout Friday with a 39-save effort in Everett’s 3-0 win over Spokane.

Hart has won his past nine games, including four last week. He allowed two goals in three games last week. Hart is simply unbeatable right now in the WHL.

• With his hat trick Saturday night, Western Michigan winger Wade Allison is now second in the nation with 14 goals and third in the country with 25 points. Allison also had an assist against Miami Saturday night, and another helper Friday night.

Cooper Marody had three assists Thursday night in Michigan’s 4-0 win over Michigan State. Marody has 20 assists, second in the nation. He’s averaging 1.5 points per game.

Morgan Frost had two more multi-point games last week. His seven-game multi-point streak ended Sunday, but his point streak hit eight games with an assist. During his seven-game multi-point streak, Frost gathered 14 points. He has 43 points in his last 23 games, 33 points in his last 17 games, leads the OHL as a plus-33, second in the OHL with 32 assists and third with 47 points.

Tanner Laczynski helped No. 15 Ohio State sweep No. 7 Minnesota. Laczynski had a goal Friday, and a goal and an assist Saturday. He has 23 points in 18 games this year.

• Acadie-Bathurst center German Rubtsov had a goal and an assist in two games last week. Rubtsov is riding a four-game point streak with the Titan.

Oskar Lindblom had a two-goal week last week. He has six goals and 15 points in 26 games with the Phantoms.

• It was a pretty productive week for Phantoms center Mikhail Vorobyev, who scored Wednesday and had a goal and an assist Saturday night.

Olle Lycksell, while loaned to IK Oskarshamn for two games, had a must-see shootout dangle last Tuesday. Lycksell had an assist and scored twice in the shootout.

• Guelph’s Isaac Ratcliffe had four assists in three games last week.

Linus Högberg has made Team Sweden’s preliminary roster for the WJCs.