Defense provides offensive spark as Flyers top Hurricanes

Defense provides offensive spark as Flyers top Hurricanes


RALEIGH, N.C. — When your penalty-kill units are ranked 26th among 30 teams, the last thing you would expect is to snap a two-game losing skid with a shorthanded goal.
Yet that’s what happened Sunday evening as Brandon Manning scored the Flyers' first shortie of the season to give them a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes at PNC Arena (see Instant Replay).
“Our penalty kill has been doing a good job lately, but we haven’t been getting bounces,” said Manning, who took a breakaway pass from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and beat 'Canes goalie Cam Ward near the circle.
“Belly did a great job winning a puck battle and their forwards were sagging low on our guys. I saw an opportunity.”

Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas and Claude Giroux added tallies for the Flyers.
Sunday's victory completed a stretch of six games in nine days (3-3 record) and came less than 24 hours after Saturday’s wrenching 5-4 loss to the Penguins.
“We wanted to build on the good habits and it’s three of four games where we’re working toward playing a full 60-minute game,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol.
“We played a good hockey game in Montreal, a good game last night and we wanted to come in here and do that again. We knew how critical the two points were.”
It wasn't easy for the Flyers to get up for the 'Canes after an emotional loss to their hated rival from Western Pennsylvania.
“Back to backs are hard and there’s not much atmosphere down in Carolina,” Manning said. “They’re a little harder to get up for. Coming off last night, we had a bit of momentum and something to build off of.”
Michal Neuvirth, who relieved Steve Mason against the Penguins, picked up just his second win of the season. His last? The season opener in Los Angeles.
Neuvirth had a mixed-bag game with 26 saves. He was very sharp as the start, so-so in the second period and sharp again at the finish.
That the Flyers came into play with a 3.89 goals against (ranked 29th) tells you their goaltending has been poor.
“I don’t think I am playing any different but the bounces are not going your way,” Neuvirth said. “Stuff like that. You just have to believe in yourself and your game.
“I came into the game confident and wanted to build on my game last night. I thought I had a good first period. It wasn’t easy to give up three goals. But mentally, I battled hard. It’s a big win for me to grind it out like. I should feel better about myself.”
Neuvirth barely settled into net in the opening minute before having to make two outstanding glove saves – one on Sebastian Aho and the other on Jeff Skinner.
It was a strong opening period for the Flyers with 13 shots. Shayne Gostisbehere gave them a 1-0 lead late in the stanza on the power play with a shot from the left point through traffic that found its way past Ward. It was Ghost’s first power-play goal this season. He had eight during his rookie season.
“I was just trying to keep the puck in real quick,” he said. “They didn't pressure too hard, they went to Jake's (Voracek) side. I had a lane and was just focused on getting by the D, who was in front.”
The 'Canes tied it to open the second period when Neuvirth got distracted trying to push Lee Stempniak out of the paint just as Justin Faulk wristed one under the crossbar.
Radko Gudas gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead, but it didn’t last long as Skinner retied it on a delayed penalty. Then an Ivan Provorov turnover led to Viktor Stalberg’s breakaway goal that gave the 'Canes their first lead of the game at 3-2.
Just as the middle period was about to expire, however, Wayne Simmonds fed Claude Giroux for a blast in the slot to make it 3-3, tying Giroux with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for the NHL points lead (12).
“I’m more worried about the minuses,” said Giroux, who is minus-7 for the season. “You want to be a good player and need to be responsible offensively and defensively. We got some work to do in there.”
He’s not alone. Twelve other Flyers are in the minus, as well, as they try to climb out of sixth place in the Metro Division.
“They came at us hard and playing back to back with a 5:00 p.m. game, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,” Giroux said. “Maybe we didn’t have our legs tonight but we played the way we wanted to.”
Besides this being five games over seven days, it was also the Flyers third set of back-to-back games over 16 days. Guess what? They have another set coming up in mid-week - at home Wednesday vs. Detroit and Thursday in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders.
Of a possible 12 points among those back to backs, the Flyers have seven (3-2-1 record).
“It’s a lot of games,” Giroux said. “But it’s a good thing. We’re working on our game a lot. To do that early in the season is pretty good. It’s not the record we want right now but I really believe we are getting better as a team.”

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

When the Flyers last skated off the ice at the Wells Fargo Center 11 days ago, they did so while being serenaded with boos from above, after losing their 10th straight game. This time, to the Bruins with another lethargic effort. The game prior, on Nov. 28 against the Sharks, the fans, like the angry mob from The Simpsons, were calling for the firing of the head coach with “Fire Hakstol” chants. The only thing missing were the pitchforks. (Public service announcement: Leave the pitchforks at home.)

On Tuesday night, the Flyers returned home from a three-game Western Canada road gauntlet with their fortunes changed and beginning a five-game homestand. They had won their previous three games and entered Tuesday’s showdown with the NHL’s hottest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, six points behind the New York Rangers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

For a team in a competitive rebuild that, at times, looked like one waiting for its coach to get fired, the Flyers returned home having stopped the bleeding away from their own building. Now, they had to bandage it there.

The Flyers did just that, with one of their most complete, 60-minute efforts of the season (see story). They dispatched the Maple Leafs, 4-2, to win their fourth straight and end a six-game home losing streak. It was their first home win since Nov. 9.

They took one penalty, albeit a costly one that would have sunk this team 11 days ago.

They outshot Toronto, 39-22, and threw 32 shots on net in the final 40 minutes.

They dominated puck possession and every metric proves it.

“We were playing some good hockey and I think our identity changed a little bit with that road trip,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re excited right now in the room. We played a lot of good hockey games when we lost, but we didn’t get the results and now we're playing some good hockey and we’re getting the results so we gotta keep building on this."

Now they’re getting the results.

The Flyers are on their longest winning streak of the season. They twice faced adversity Tuesday against the Maple Leafs and didn’t buckle.

Giroux scored the game’s first goal at 9:21 of the first period, but Patrick Marleau answered back for the Leafs just 27 seconds later. Eleven days ago, that would be game over.

Instead, the Flyers kept playing and closed out the period strong. Then, after dominating the second period, Jakub Voracek was whistled for a tripping penalty at 16:11, and James van Riemsdyk tallied his 15th goal of the season to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. It was a potential killer goal, one that would have deflated the Flyers 11 days ago, no questions asked. It came late in a period that they dominated. It felt like typical Flyers.

But the Flyers survived it. They escaped the period, went into the locker room and came back out in the third period right where they left off. Travis Konecny, who played just 7:20 through two periods, tied it at 2-2 at 5:36. The Flyers kept pushing and pushing. They were rewarded too. Sean Couturier tied his career-high with his 15th goal at 17:05 for the game-winner and then Scott Laughton iced it with an empty-netter at 19:44. It was the Flyers’ first third-period comeback of the season.

“We’re working hard and we haven’t stopped working hard,” Konecny, who scored his second goal in his last 20 games, said, “even through [that] tough stretch of games and it’s finally paying off.”

This Flyers team is a lot looser right now. Winning does that. During their 10-game freefall into irrelevance, they swore they weren't playing poorly.

And once more, they echoed that Tuesday night, even after a win. Now, they're just taking advantage of the breaks, getting the bounces, insert tired cliché here.

“I don’t think there’s much difference at all,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “If you want to look back, I thought there were one or two nights where we looked tight. I thought on the last night here at home, I thought we looked like a tired and a little bit tight hockey team.

“We've taken advantage of a break or two, but I think most importantly, guys just kept their foot on the gas and found ways to win games here over the past few games."

Credit goes to the Flyers, the coaching staff and general manager Ron Hextall. They didn't panic when things were falling apart. Hakstol remained positive, harped on the positives. He promised they would get through it.

Hextall did the same. The GM, on several occasions, praised the way the Flyers were playing during their losing streak. For as much heat as Hakstol and Hextall caught at the time, they deserve recognition for their managing styles in times of dismay.

The Flyers' win Tuesday kicked off a five-game homestand that features three games against Eastern Conference opponents, and perhaps set the tone for the home swing.

The homestand continues Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres visit. If the Flyers play with the same effort they did Tuesday, the winning streak will reach five.

They’re taking fewer penalties, averaging 1.75 penalties during their current four-game winning streak. That’s a good thing for a team that’s penalty kill ranks 29th.

But what might matters most, is they're not chasing the game anymore. They're owning the puck and they're spending more time on the attack, and that’s a recipe for success.

“We’ve had the puck a little bit more,” Hakstol said,” and that’s probably the first place to look. We had a stretch there where stick penalties were getting us.

“Those kinds of penalties happen when you’re chasing a game when you’re defending a little bit too much. It’s not necessarily the discipline side of it. We’ve had the puck a little bit more. We haven’t had to defend as much in our own zone.”

Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

CALGARY, Alberta — Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and the Flyers from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

"We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family," Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

"This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family."

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League's Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.