Why the Flyers are struggling to score

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Why the Flyers are struggling to score

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Ivan Provorov has been playing hockey since the age of six, and he can't ever remember a time when his team went two straight games without scoring a goal.

"Not really, no. All the teams I've played on were very high-scoring teams," Provorov said. "Stuff like this happens. They're good teams and playing the same team two games in a row, the goalie was hot."

Perhaps Provorov's rookie season at times was a blur because the Flyers went through a similar type of drought last season. During a 19-game stretch from Dec. 22 to Feb. 6, the Flyers were also shut out on five different occasions, including back-to-back games, and the offense was so dismal that they scored just four goals over a five-game stretch.

"Yeah, but we didn't play good," Jakub Voracek vividly recalls. "We weren't good enough to win the games. We may have outshot them, but we didn't play good enough last year after that 10-game winning streak to deserve to win more games. You can't compare it to this year. I don't know how it looks from up top in the press box, but I think we're playing better hockey, to be honest."

Last season's goalless streak lasted 134 minutes and 56 seconds. When the Flyers take the ice in Winnipeg tonight, the skid will pick up at 156 minutes and nine seconds.

"I think we're doing a better job of getting more quality shots this year than we are last year, to be honest with you, and quality chances," Voracek said. "We're moving a little better than we did last year. That's why we're creating more [and better] scoring chances."

In their 1-0 loss to the Wild Saturday, the Flyers outshot Minnesota, 32-27, but according to the website that tracks shot location, the highest concentration of shots (5-on-5) came from the right point. The Flyers were also able to manufacture some shots from the top of the left circle as well, but not nearly as much in the danger zone between the circles.

The end result made Devan Dubnyk's 32-save shutout at the Wells Fargo Center not too terribly difficult, which is why Dave Hakstol and his players made a more conscious effort to get more traffic, look for more rebounds and second effort chances. Here's the shot map from Tuesday's game at the Xcel Energy Center where the Flyers were able to generate more action in front of the crease with a high volume from the right defense position. 

"I think we did a better job than we did on Saturday," Voracek said. "In the end, it doesn't really matter. Sometimes shots don't tell the whole story. We had so many games last year that we outshot them by 20 shots."

The Flyers generated some excellent chances. Scott Laughton had a couple looks from in tight, while Dale Weise was stuffed on a breakaway.

However, you'll notice one distinct difference between the Flyers' shot chart and that of the Minnesota Wild. The Wild aren't relying as much on shots inside their blue line as they were able to maintain a strong cycle game from their four lines and generate more offense down low, where the Flyers at times are forced to settle on working the puck around the perimeter and up top to their defense.

Credit Dave Hakstol for switching up the lines and inserting Jordan Weal at center where the line of Weise, Weal and Wayne Simmonds generated more possession time and more quality scoring chances. Prior to Tuesday's game, the Flyers' second and third lines with Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera in the middle simply weren't generating a cycle game to create shots in and around the net.

When those two lines are on the ice, there's more emphasis on swinging the puck to the defensemen while hopefully getting a rebound or a deflected goal.

"It's hard to get a rebound if the D has to shoot it through five guys, you know what I mean," Voracek said. "If they box you out, the goalie sees it, if they don't they do a good job of putting three guys in the lane and it's hard for the defense to get some kind of lane." 

Voracek and I both agreed that's what's plagued the Flyers for much of last season, and more recently when they've had trouble scoring this season. While the Flyers would love to activate their defense in the offensive zone, that doesn't necessarily include just sending pucks on net from inside the blue line. 

Lately, it's been the No. 1 line and the fourth line of Taylor Leier, Laughton and Michael Raffl that has created the offensive pressure. The Flyers need more than that or these scoring droughts will continue to linger.

Capitals reclaim sole possession of Metro lead

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Capitals reclaim sole possession of Metro lead

WASHINGTON — T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen scored as the Washington Capitals swept a home-and-home set against the skidding New York Islanders with a 6-3 win on Friday night.

Alex Chiasson had a goal and two assists for the Capitals, who hammered the Islanders 7-3 in New York on Thursday. Jakub Vrana's goal gave Washington a 5-1 lead with 9:04 remaining. Lars Eller added an empty-netter, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves.

Washington broke a tie with the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals' four-game winning streak is their longest since taking five in a row from Dec. 28 to Jan. 9.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington's second-leading scorer, left in the second period and did not return after sustaining an upper-body injury, according to the team.

Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and John Tavares scored for the Islanders, who have lost 10 of 11 (see full recap).

Hoffman lifts Senators over Stars in OT
OTTAWA, Ontario — Mike Hoffman scored at 3:26 of overtime and the Ottawa Senators beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night to win their third game in a row for just the second time this season.

Ottawa won on home ice for the first time since Feb. 17.

Marian Gaborik and Matt Duchene also scored for the Senators (26-33-11), and Craig Anderson made 23 saves.

Tyler Seguin and Tyler Pitlick had the goals for the Stars (38-26-8). Ben Bishop, who stopped 22 shots, made his first start since missing five games with a knee injury sustained March 5 against the Senators. Bishop has a 9-0-4 career record against Ottawa.

Dallas has lost four straight, its longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Predators rally past Coyotes
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Nashville Predators keep rolling toward the best regular season in franchise history.

Kevin Fiala and Kyle Turris each had a goal and assist in the third period, leading Nashville to a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. Ryan Ellis also scored to help the Western Conference-leading Predators get their 21st road win of the season and improve to 12-0-1 in their last 13 games overall. Pekka Rinne finished with 32 saves.

Nashville, which reached the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after earning the second wild card in the West, has 102 points through 70 games, and needs nine more in its final 12 games to set a new franchise record (see full recap).

Alex Lyon can save the Flyers' season

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Alex Lyon can save the Flyers' season

Lost amid the Flyers’ 5-3 defeat at the hands Blue Jackets on Thursday was yet another stellar relief appearance in goal from Alex Lyon.

Lyon was sensational after replacing Petr Mrazek between the pipes early in the second period, stopping all 18 shots that came his way. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol praised the rookie netminder for giving his team an opportunity to come from behind.

“He’s a battler, and that’s what we asked from him last night going into that situation,” Hakstol said following Friday’s practice.

“You need to have a mindset of going in there and absolutely slamming the door to give your team a chance to win. In order to do that, you have to have a real battling mentality, and I thought he had that right from when he stepped in the net.”

Success in a sort of stopper role has become increasingly commonplace for Lyon since joining the Flyers.

Lyon came off the bench to make five saves during the final eight minutes of a 5-3 loss to the Capitals in his January debut. The 25-year-old later earned his first NHL win against the Rangers in February, blocking 25 of 26 shots over the second and third periods to help procure a 7-4 victory.

His play has been on the rise ever since. Lyon appears to be improving with experience, posting a 2-1-0 record with a .939 save percentage in his last four games.

“I don’t know if I’d say confidence so much as comfortability,” Lyon said of his growth. “I think I always had the confidence in myself that I could do it. It’s just you have to get comfortable enough to kind of believe that.”

He shined as a substitute goaltender all along. Including his performance against the Blue Jackets, Lyon has amassed a .980 save percentage in three relief appearances — a number emblematic of his season.

Lyon began 2017-18 as the emergency-goalie-in-waiting at Lehigh Valley. He earned the call-up to the Flyers’ main roster after the injury to Brian Elliott, then saw an uptick in ice time due to Michal Neuvirth’s subsequent maladies.

The club traded for Petr Mrazek after Neuvirth went down, but Lyon still finds himself in the mix. He’s expected to start against the Hurricanes on Saturday — a pivotal contest for the Flyers’ bid to make the playoffs.

“It’s extremely exciting,” Lyon said. “This is what you think about when you’re a little kid.

“It’s not quite the same, but down in Allentown we were in a pretty hot playoff race last year and always at the top of the standings, so I’m going to draw on my past experiences.”

Elliott returned to the ice this week and could be back in uniform soon, at which time Lyon will be sent back to the minor leagues. But if the Flyers do manage to reach the postseason, his fill-in contributions will have played a big part.

Perhaps Lyon will even warrant a closer look for a full-time spot on the Flyers’ roster next season.