Flyers

NHL's new rule has turned coach's challenge into blackjack

NHL's new rule has turned coach's challenge into blackjack

VOORHEES, N.J. — The NHL's new challenge rule has now evolved into a play-the-odds gamble of high stakes hockey. 

What was once an effort two years ago by the NHL to maintain some league-wide integrity through the utilization of video replay to correct potentially incorrect calls has now extended well beyond that.

There's no longer just a benefit without the risk option, but rather, a risky proposition with the slight potential of a benefit.

It was only a matter of time before a coach would be burned by an incorrect challenge. Who knew it would be at the expense of the Flyers within the first seven days of their season? 

When asked during the preseason about the NHL's new rule, 78.7(b), where a minor penalty would be assessed for an unsuccessful challenge, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol agreed the league was discouraging coaches from utilizing the challenge option.

"The coach's challenge was really intended to focus on glaring errors," commissioner Gary Bettman said this summer.

So errors that aren't so glaring shouldn't be given the same consideration? A mistake is a mistake whether it's by an inch, a foot or a yard, and as the numbers suggest, they happen with regularity. Of the 117 offsides scoring plays that were challenged a year ago, only 39 were overturned — exactly 33 percent. That's more than enough to question human judgment.  

And that's just the number of offsides plays that were reviewed. Unquestionably, there were some scoring plays where a coach didn't have a challenge left, or the game was so out of reach that the goal in question wasn't worth the review.

When asked about the percentages and probabilities of the outcome, Hakstol said Thursday, "It has to weigh into your decision, especially the probabilities of the calls that are reversed in terms of the offsides challenge, so that has to come into it. That's something I'm very aware of coming into this season."

Armed with that knowledge, the odds were already stacked against Hakstol, who at one point last season lost his first seven challenges, whether it was for an offsides call or a goaltender interference.

The information Hakstol should have been absorbing at that moment of the game is now much more than just the video evidence (or lack thereof) of the questioned offsides play of Scott Hartnell's goal in the Flyers' 6-5 loss Tuesday in Nashville. Let's review:

Win the challenge — Flyers lead 5-4, finish killing off the remaining 36 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play with the ensuing face-off just outside the blueline with Nashville pulling Rinne for a 6-on-3.

Lose the challenge — Game is tied 5-5, kill off 36 seconds of a 5-on-3, and then kill 5-on-4 for the remaining 31 seconds of regulation, and then a 4-on-3 power play for 43 seconds into overtime.

Don't challenge — Game is tied 5-5, forced to kill off remaining 36 seconds of a 5-on-4 power play with the face-off at center ice.

If the coach is 100 percent certain the play would be reversed, the right answer is choice No. 1. Without that certainty, choice No. 3 is the obvious selection. It's a lot to comprehend in a short amount of time when coaches have roughly 30 seconds to make a decision whether or not to call for a review.

And then there are other factors and variables that could also be taken into consideration, such as home/away ice, momentum swing of the game, which players are in the box and whether the team's best penalty killers are available.

If you don't think professional coaches at every level and in every sport experience information overload at moments of split-second decision-making, then why would the NFL's coaching brethren have charts to determine the basic mathematical criteria on whether or not they should attempt a two-point conversion?

How many times did Eagles fans pull their hair out in frustration watching Andy Reid botch a two-minute offense with incoherent time management skills?

Hakstol spent a good 15 minutes following the media scrum in the Flyers' locker room explaining his thought process behind a decision of this magnitude that directly affected the outcome of a game. A decision that seemed obvious to outsiders: Don't challenge the play and bank on making it to overtime, where the Flyers would earn a point and possibly two.

However, rule 78.7(b) goes well beyond that.

Not only did the NHL bring the game of hockey to Vegas this season, it also adopted its blackjack mentality.

Stars score 7 goals in win over Sabres

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Stars score 7 goals in win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn caught one of his teammates reaching for an extra chicken wing in the locker room after Saturday's game.

"Easy," Benn said. "We're only on game 48."

The Stars continued their midseason push into playoff positioning by closing out a four-game road trip with a 7-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Mattias Janmark had two goals and an assist, Esa Lindell added a goal and two assists, Jamie Benn and Radek Faksa each had a goal and an assist, and Remi Elle also scored for the Stars, who return home after going 3-0-1 on the road.

"It's a battle every game and every day in this league," said Benn, who extended his point streak to seven games. "It seems we've been playing pretty good hockey as of late and I think we are still only seventh in the conference."

The Stars regrouped from a 2-1 shootout loss in Columbus on Thursday night to match their season-high scoring total (see full recap).

Jets snap Flames' 7-game winning streak with shootout win
CALGARY, Alberta — Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler scored in the shootout and the Winnipeg Jets beat Calgary 2-1 Saturday, snapping the Flames' seven-game winning streak.

Little opened the shootout with a wrist shot inside the post and past Mike Smith. After Mark Jankowski and Sean Monahan were stopped by Connor Hellebuyck and Smith stopped Patrik Laine, Wheeler clinched it on a deke to his forehand.

Mathieu Perreault scored in regulation for Winnipeg, which improved to 7-2-1 in its last 10. TJ Brodie scored for Calgary.

Hellebuyck had 30 saves for the Jets and Smith stopped 33 shots in defeat (see full recap).

Pastrnak scores twices as Bruins continue dominance over Habs
MONTREAL  — David Pastrnak scored twice and set up another goal to help the Boston Bruins beat Montreal 4-1 on Saturday night, their third win in eight days against the Canadiens.

Torey Krug had a goal and two assists and Riley Nash added an empty-netter for Boston, which is 12-0-4 in its past 16 games.

Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal, which ended a stretch of five games in eight days since their midseason break at 1-2-2. The Canadiens were coming off a 3-1 win Friday night in Washington.

Pacioretty got his seventh goal in seven games 11:29 into the second period. Paul Byron lost the puck, stripped it back from Charlie McAvoy from behind and then slipped a backhand pass to Pacioretty on a 2-on-1 (see full recap).

Avalance beat Rangers for 9th straight win
DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche have gone from pushover to powerhouse in less than a season, and their recent streak is evoking memories of past glory.

Nathan MacKinnon, Erik Johnson and Mikko Rantanen had a goal and an assist each, Jonathan Bernier made 27 saves and the streaking Avalanche beat the New York Rangers 3-1 on Saturday for their ninth straight win.

The Avalanche have won eight straight at home and haven't lost since Arizona beat them on Dec. 27. Colorado has outscored opponents 37-15 in the last nine games and has not trailed during the winning streak, which has moved the team into playoff position in the Western Conference.

"We can't get comfortable," MacKinnon said. "That is why we are fighting every night because we need these points. It's so tight, the division is so tight." (see full recap).

Provorov, Gostisbehere, oh my for Flyers' opponents

Provorov, Gostisbehere, oh my for Flyers' opponents

BOX SCORE

Ivan Provorov's hockey intelligence is off the charts for a guy who just turned 21 years old a week ago.

When he talks the game, he resembles a player with mounds of NHL experience.

In actuality, he's only 128 games into his professional career.

But it doesn't take Provorov's precociousness to understand what makes him click with Shayne Gostisbehere and how both can be a grueling pain in the opposition's side.

"If we play on offense, they can't score," Provorov said simply.

Bingo.

In a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, Provorov and Gostisbehere were a two-headed monster, a blue-line duo that can terrorize the competition when it's performing the way it did Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

"We look toward the challenge," Gostisbehere said. "Obviously we're playing against the other teams' top lines and it's a challenge every game, it's the teams' best players. I think as a pair, we just need to keep it simple, pick our spots and it's working."

It more than worked against the Devils.

Provorov scored a goal, played 23:13, was a plus-2 and led the Flyers with six shots on goal and nine total shot attempts. Gostisbehere opened the scoring with a doozy of a primary assist, played 20:09, was a plus-2 and strong in his own zone.

Most ideally, though, when Provorov and Gostisbehere are wreaking havoc in the opposition's zone by keeping their team on the offensive, the Flyers can be awfully tough to beat. 

Saturday was case in point as the Flyers seized a commanding 3-0 lead in the first period to eventually win for the sixth time in the last seven games, creeping to within a point of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

"Doing the little things and taking care of the puck," Provorov said of the fast start, which has often eluded the Flyers through 46 games thus far. "If we take care of the puck and move it forward, we don't have to play defense and that helps us to create offense and create energy."

It can also limit the counterpart's best unit. In this case, it was the Devils' first line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, New Jersey's top three scorers. The trio was held in check with just a goal and an assist, while each player finished a minus-2.

"It's not just the D-pairing, I think it's a combination of the group of forwards that spent most of the time against that line," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "They did a good job. It's a big challenge, those are good players that have been generating a lot. I thought Provy and Ghost did a good job along with the majority of the time with [Sean Couturier's] line."

When asked about neutralizing the Devils' big boys, Provorov showed that hockey intelligence of his, which belies his age.

"Just take away time and space," he said. "When guys can skate that fast, just try to limit their time, angle them and don't give them time to pick up their head — just be on them hard.

"That whole line is pretty fast, but our main focus was to try and limit their chances and play on offense."

Provorov and Gostisbehere are tied for second among NHL defensemen with nine goals apiece, while Gostisbehere's 33 points are tied for fourth. He recorded his 33rd point off a sparkling play in which he took the puck from his own blue line, skated around Hischier, darted toward the middle and hit a wide-open Travis Konecny for a 1-0 lead 3:29 into the game.

"Honestly, I just knew if I was skating, he was going to find that lane," Konecny said. "Sure enough, I didn't have to move, it just came right to me."

Konecny registered two more points Saturday, giving him nine in his last 10 games, as the Flyers' youth answered the bell against a divisional opponent. And when Provorov and Gostisbehere are driving play, the Flyers are a different animal for a variety of reasons.

"It's good, it's fun to watch, they're both really good with the puck, make good plays and both can score," Valtteri Filppula, who netted the Flyers' other goal, said. "It's definitely fun to see them out there and they get a lot of minutes, too, which is nice."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won his second straight start, quipped: "They don't feel young to me."

They're not looking it.

"I think we understand the game in a similar way," Provorov said. "We move the puck, we understand where we are on the ice all the time, which helps us get out of our zone quick, get through the neutral zone real fast and create something on offense."

Which creates trouble for whomever the Flyers see down the stretch.