Why All-Star break comes at perfect time for Flyers

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Why All-Star break comes at perfect time for Flyers

If you’ve driven from the Sports Complex to Center City up Broad Street, then you have a pretty good indication of what the Flyers' schedule has been like over the past month.

Start, stop, start, stop, start and then stop again.

I’m not exactly sure why the traffic signals can’t be synchronized at least for a good half mile stretch, but every time the Flyers have a good pace to their schedule, they’re forced to pump the brakes. 

First came the league-wide Christmas break when the Flyers had four days between games. Then came the Flyers' five-day bye week and now a brief three-day holiday for the All-Star Game.   

“It’s crazy, three breaks in one month, I don’t think I’ve had it before,” Jake Voracek said. “Personally, I like to keep going. On the other hand, if I know I’m going to have that bye week or if I’m going to have that All-Star break to get some rest, it’s going to help. I’m playing around 20 minutes a night. That rest is awesome.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol approaches each break a little differently depending on the workload leading up to that break and where they are on the schedule.

“Everyone’s a little bit different,” Hakstol said. “Each one of the breaks, you’re in a different spot when you come into the break or come out of that break. I think right now for our team, it’ll be a good time for a break. It’s a short break.”

For most teams, you’ll typically find a heavy workload of games that precede the break. Just before the Christmas break, the Flyers endured a stretch of seven games in twelve days. They reeled off three straight wins before dropping three of their next four, the first sign of physical and mental fatigue setting in. Thursday’s 5-1 to the Lightning wrapped up a stretch of six games in ten days and Hakstol believes this break comes as a bit of relief.

“I’ve probably been split down the middle on the last couple, to be honest with you," Hakstol said. "They are what they are. You can make a positive spin or you can make a negative spin. Honestly, I think at this point in time we’ve played a lot of hockey. I think you saw a little bit of that in our game the other night. Mentally and physically, we looked like we had some fatigue to our game I thought the other night in Detroit.”

Interestingly, in the first 49 games of the season, the Flyers have had seven extended periods between games — stretches where they’ve had at least three full days off in between games. In that first game back the Flyers are 4-3-0, ranging from an 8-2 blowout victory over the Washington Capitals in the home opener to the last time they were shutout, 3-0, at home to the Bruins.

In other words, the Flyers haven’t responded one way or the other coming out of a significant break in action. 

Once the league reconvenes following the All-Star Break, that will all change.

From here on out it’s a sprint to the finish. A 31-team drag race, foot to the pedal, with no opportunity to decelerate. 33 games over the final 67 days of the regular season, and for the Flyers, not a single three-day break.

“We’re in the fight and it’s going to be a dogfight now coming back as soon as we come back off the break,” Hakstol said after Thursday’s game. “The schedule doesn’t lighten, but it doesn’t really lighten up for anybody. We got to keep finding ways to get points and keep finding ways to get a little bit better.”

“Every team in our division is capable of making a push,” Travis Konecny said. “It’s just going to come down to whatever team sticks with it, whatever team stays positive, grinds the longest, just battles it out.”

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Replacing Wayne Simmonds on the power play may be one of the toughest assignments in the NHL.

After all, the guy is second to only Alex Ovechkin with 85 man-advantage goals since the 2011-12 season.

So when the predicament actually faced Dave Hakstol this week, the Flyers' head coach turned to … a 19-year-old rookie.

Why Nolan Patrick?

Three components of the decision stand out:

Intelligence factor
Leading up the NHL draft, the overwhelming strength of Patrick's scouting report was his hockey sense.

Those close to him, as well draft experts, lauded Patrick for comprehending plays before they even happen and being above the ice in understanding spacing.

Those characteristics are crucial when having an extra man.

Patrick has two goals over two games filling in for the injured Simmonds on the Flyers' top power-play unit. Patrick exhibited his IQ with Thursday's game-winner, where he quickly planted himself right in front of the net, had the presence of mind to find the puck and then bury it past Sergei Bobrovsky.

"We told him, just stand in front, if you see a puck, bring it home," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We tried to simplify it for him and he's going to take care of it himself, he's a great hockey player. It's paying off for him."

All about the touch
Patrick has excellent hands.

Put him around the net, and he'll know how to deflect pucks and find holes in a goalie. His vision, skill and finesse are why he's regarded as such an all-around playmaker.

In Tuesday's win, Patrick found immediate success with the first power-play group. Making his way to the middle, Patrick took a Claude Giroux pass and showed off that touch, adeptly going top shelf as Carey Price went low.

Studying Simmonds' net-front proficiency hasn't hurt, either.

"I watch him every game, he's unbelievable there and good at tipping pucks and making plays," Patrick said. "You learn from just watching every day."

Building up the kid
With time, Hakstol and the Flyers have allowed for Patrick to become comfortable instead of putting the world on his shoulders from the get-go.

That's part of Patrick's makeup.

"He almost always wants to be comfortable and then he really starts to exert himself," Patrick's uncle, James, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last June

We're starting to see Patrick let loose.

As the Flyers have gradually upped his opportunity and responsibility, Patrick has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 12 games after putting up six (two goals, four assists) over his previous 34.

Placing Patrick among the team's best talent on the man advantage will only help with his confidence moving forward, in all situations.

The Flyers' power play entered Friday with the NHL's sixth-best percentage at 21.6.

It'll need more of Patrick — but the Flyers couldn't have asked for a much better start to life without Simmonds over the next two to three weeks.

Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

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Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each had two goals and an assist and the Pittsburgh Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Friday night for their season-best sixth straight victory.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, Sidney Crosby scored a late goal and Olli Maatta also scored. The Penguins took control with three goals -- two by Kessel -- in a 7:39 span in the second period.

Matt Murray made 27 saves for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 13 to overtake idle Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Since the Penguins were shut out by Carolina on Jan. 4, they are 16-3-1.

They were just as busy off the ice, completing a mid-game trade in which they picked up center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators. As part of the complicated three-team deal, they sent defenseman Ian Cole to Ottawa and forward Ryan Reaves to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teuvo Teravainen scored and Cam Ward stopped 33 shots for the short-handed Hurricanes, who have gone 0-3-1 during a four-game slide that's keeping them outside the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Wild dominate skidding Rangers for New York sweep
NEW YORK -- Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal each scored twice and Devan Dubnyk made 22 saves in the Minnesota Wild's 4-1 victory over the free-falling New York Rangers on Friday night.

The Wild completed a three-game sweep of New York-area teams after beating the Monday night and New Jersey on Thursday night.

The Rangers lost for the sixth straight time in regulation. New York is 6-17-0 since beating Buffalo in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (see full recap).

Blackhawks’ Berube dominant in 1st Chicago start
CHICAGO -- Jean-Francois Berube made 42 saves in his first start for Chicago to help the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Friday night.

Defenseman Jan Rutta, activated from injured reserve Friday, and Nick Schmaltz scored, and Artem Anisimov added an empty-netter with 30.5 seconds left.

Anthony Duclair had two assists for the Blackhawks. They won their second straight and third in four games following an eight-game losing streak that dropped them to last place in the Central Division.

Berube lost a bid for this first NHL shutout when Timo Meier scored his 15th goal on a screened shot with 7:51 left in the third period.

Martin Jones stopped 33 shots for the Sharks, coming off a 7-1 loss at Nashville on Thursday night (see full recap).