Flyers

Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

From “Let’s Go Flyers!” chants to “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” ringing throughout T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Sunday’s inaugural contest between the Flyers and the Golden Knights felt like a home game at the Wells Fargo Center. I’d be interested to see how many orange (and black) sweaters were actually in the crowd as the Flyers' official Twitter account posted this tweet from the press box in Las Vegas. If I had to guess, I’d say there were four to five thousand Flyers fans in the crowd.

But on the ice, the Flyers continued their surge with two huge wins and four crucial points in the standings.

Let's take a deeper look at the Flyers' successful two-game swing through Arizona and Vegas this past weekend:

• Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the two-game desert sweep was the performance and resiliency of Michal Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to earn a win after entering the game during the shootout. You can never script when your number will be called, but Neuvirth has singlehandedly helped the Flyers earn five points in his last three appearances, the first of which came in relief of Alex Lyon in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators last Saturday. Since entering that game nine days ago, Neuvirth has stopped 44 of 45 shots and 10 of 11 in the shootout.   

• The Flyers handed the Golden Knights just their fourth regulation loss at home this season and apparently the presence of a Czech netminder is part of the secret ingredient for success. Neuvirth joins fellow countrymen Petr Mrazek (Red Wings) and Jaroslav Halak (Islanders) to win in regulation in Vegas. American Ben Bishop (Stars) is the other.

• Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux continue to haunt Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease no matter where the netminder goes. The Flyers' top line dominated Fleury Sunday in a game reminiscent of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Penguins. In Game 2 of that series, both Couturier and Giroux recorded their only hat tricks. Giroux scored on the power play, shorthanded and with an empty net and finished with six goals in the six-game series. Couturier, then only 19, posted the only three goals of his rookie playoff campaign in that game. The torment continued Sunday night. Both Giroux and Couturier scored in the 4-1 win and the Flyers' top line finished with a seven-point night.

• Speaking of Giroux, ever since he called out his lackluster play in the game against the Hurricanes this past Tuesday, he’s been on an offensive rampage with three goals and three assists over his last three games. That was enough for the NHL to award him First Star of the week honors. This latest three-game stretch proves yet again why Giroux’s teammates respect him as a captain and a leader. If you listened to his postgame comments following the win in Arizona, you could clearly tell that Giroux was battling an illness. There was a belief that Giroux’s sickness would force him to miss Saturday’s game against the Coyotes, but he was able to gut it out and turn in a very solid performance that included a power-play goal. It’s this type of lead-by-example moment that forms bonds and creates character for successful teams.

• It took Radko Gudas 155 attempted shots and 730 minutes of ice time this season, but finally, the Flyers' defenseman registered his first goal of the season. His empty-net tally secured the Flyers' 4-1 win in Vegas and also prompted an entertaining exchange on the Golden Knights' twitter account. You could see Gudas’ teammates were genuinely happy for him as Shayne Gostisbehere had some fun with Gudas on the bench.

• According to Brian Smith, the Flyers' manager of broadcasting and media services, Sunday’s game against the Golden Knights marked just the eighth time in team history the Flyers' opponent did not commit a single penalty. The last time the Flyers won a game when the opponent did not commit a penalty came nearly 40 years ago — a 4-2 decision over Los Angeles on April 1, 1978.

• For whatever reason, some of the Flyers' more impressive wins this season have taken place on the road in the second game of a back-to-back set against Western Conference opponents. After coming up short to the Kings, 2-0, on their season-opening road trip, the Flyers have ripped off three straight in the above mentioned-scenario with wins against the Blues (2-0 on Nov. 2), Canucks (4-1 on Dec. 7) and now Sunday's triumph over the Golden Knights. The Flyers are now 8-4-1 on the road against the West with two games remaining — a back-to-back set against the Stars and Avalanche on March 27 and 28.

• Of the Flyers' remaining 26 games, their upcoming back-to-back set in Dallas and Denver features the only two games outside of the Eastern time zone. In those two games in Texas and Colorado, they’ll cover 3,315 miles. Conversely, the Flyers will travel just 6,513 miles over their remaining 11 road games. With their season-opening four-game road trip as their longest of the season, the Flyers may have one of the most favorable 82-game schedules they've had to navigate.

• The Flyers improved to 16-2-4 this season when scoring at least four goals. That includes 13 straight wins.

Just shoot! Jakub Voracek quiets many with his heroics

Just shoot! Jakub Voracek quiets many with his heroics

BOX SCORE

Jakub Voracek had dead aim, at least that’s what the score sheet confirmed Tuesday following the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens (see observations).

Two shots on net. Two shots that found a way past Carey Price.

Even though the NHL’s assist leader has more shots on net than Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Voracek hears the voices that say he passes up on quality scoring opportunities. 

One prime example came with 30 seconds remaining in the second period. Claude Giroux forced a takeaway and fed Voracek on a 2-on-0 prime scoring chance, but it resulted in Voracek sending a pass back to Giroux when perhaps he should have shot.

“It’s always easier to say we’re over-passing things,” Voracek said. “If you’re on the ice, the actual situation looks completely different. I hear ‘shoot the puck’ every single time I touch it. If I listened to all the people who say shoot the puck, I’d have 500 shots at the end of the season.”

However, Voracek shot the puck when it mattered most. With the Flyers trailing, 2-1, Dave Hakstol pulled goaltender Alex Lyon for the extra attacker Voracek, who took a shot from the top of the right circle that deflected off the stick of Max Pacioretty and past Price for the game-tying goal, and then buried the game-winner 1:26 into overtime (see highlights).

When asked if he caught Price by surprise on the equalizer, Voracek responded: “Me shooting? 100 percent. I just tried to hide behind the D and I got lucky and it went in.”

“It’s one of those nights when you had a lot of really good scoring opportunities and we weren’t able to cash in on them,” Hakstol said. “It’s nice to get a bounce like that with a minute and a half to go to tie it up.”

For the game, the Flyers had 79 shot attempts to Montreal’s 55. Thankfully for the Flyers, No. 79 was Voracek’s game-winner, which came at the end of his 56-second shift. Had he missed the net and been forced to play defense at the other end of the ice, there may not have been much left in the tank.     

“I was pretty tired,” Voracek said. “I’d rather have it like that. If I had missed the net, I’d have to stay on the ice and try to backcheck after, so I got lucky.”

Voracek became the second player in franchise history to score a game-tying goal in the final two minutes of regulation, and then follow it up with an overtime game-winner. Moving forward, the Flyers may need Voracek to shoot and score more with the recent injury to Wayne Simmonds, who will miss the next two to three weeks with an upper-body injury (see story).

To make matters worse, Flyers top-line winger Travis Konecny may have suffered a foot injury after taking a shot off his skate in the opening period (see video). Konecny never left the game but labored playing short, limited shifts, and wasn’t on the ice with Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov to begin the overtime session.

“He obviously got hit with the puck there, but he finished the game and that’s part of the game,” Hakstol said. “He was obviously sore through the rest of the game, but I give him credit, he continued to battle through to do everything that he could.”

Less than 24 hours after the Flyers acquired Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings to solidify the goaltending position, Alex Lyon turned in another solid effort with 25 saves on 27 shots, beating perennial All-Stars Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price in back-to-back victories.

“Yeah, it’s cool obviously to play against those guys,” Lyon said. “You watch them and you try to model your game after them. Obviously, they’re fantastic. In the same breath, you've got to go out there and say, ‘I’m coming out here to be better than you today.’”  

“It’s always nice to have some clarity,” Hakstol said. “I think Alex said it best after the game in New York the other day — it’s an ever-changing business. You just have to be ready and prepared for what the next day brings. He pretty much lived by his words.”

Notables
• Simmonds' streak of 223 consecutive games played ended Tuesday night. It marked the first game Simmonds has missed dating back to April 11, 2015.

• For the third straight game, the Flyers weren’t forced to utilize their penalty kill at any point, becoming the second team in NHL history to go three games without allowing a power-play opportunity.

• Forward Oskar Lindblom made his NHL debut Tuesday night, replacing the injured Simmonds in the Flyers' lineup. Lindblom finished the game with 15:11 of ice time and one shot on net.  

Blue Jackets snap skid on rare Harrington goal

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USA Today Images

Blue Jackets snap skid on rare Harrington goal

NEWARK, N.J. -- Defenseman Scott Harrington broke a second-period tie with his second goal of the season, and the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets snapped a three-game losing streak and ended the New Jersey Devils' four-game winning streak with a 2-1 decision on Tuesday night.

Boone Jenner also scored as the Blue Jackets moved into the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference with 65 points, one ahead of Carolina and the Islanders. Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves in helping the Blue Jackets win for the fifth time in 15 games (5-9-2).

Taylor Hall scored for the Devils to extend his point-scoring streak to 12 games, tying David Pastrnak of the Bruins for the league-high this season. He also pushed his personal point-scoring streak to 19 games. He missed three games with a thumb injury, so the league does not consider that to be part of his current streak.

Keith Kinkaid had 17 saves for New Jersey, which holds the first wild-card spot in the conference (see full recap).

Point helps Lightning beat Capitals in showdown
WASHINGTON -- Brayden Point scored two first-period goals, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots to earn his NHL-leading 35th victory and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 4-2 Tuesday night in a matchup between division leaders.

Chris Kunitz also scored in the opening period, which ended with Tampa Bay up 3-0. That was enough of a cushion for Vasilevskiy, an All-Star who came in with a 2.34 goals-against average.

After Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL-high 36th goal for Washington to make it 3-2 at 11:02 of the third period, Nikita Kucherov clinched it with a breakaway goal with 7:02 remaining.

The victory improved Tampa Bay's NHL-best record to 40-17-3 and kept the Lightning ahead of surging Boston in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

Lars Eller scored a power-play goal for the Capitals, who lead Pittsburgh by one point in the Metropolitan Division (see full recap).

Andersen makes 40 saves in Maple Leafs’ shutout
TORONTO -- Frederik Andersen made 40 saves and James van Riemsdyk scored the only goal as the surging Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Florida Panthers 1-0 on Tuesday night.

The shutout was Andersen's career-best fifth of the season. The 28-year-old goalie has reached 30 wins for the third time.

Toronto (37-20-5) has won 11 of 12 and improved to 14-4-2 since Jan. 4.

The Panthers (26-25-6) have dropped back-to-back games after opening their five-game road trip with three straight wins. Florida entered the night six points out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Florida threatened in the third with goaltender Roberto Luongo pulled for an extra attacker, but Andersen managed to thwart the Panthers' best chance -- a point shot from Keith Yandle with 23 seconds remaining.

Luongo stopped 30 shots in the loss (see full recap).