Despite loss to Kings, Flyers encouraged by newfound defensive identity

Despite loss to Kings, Flyers encouraged by newfound defensive identity


Prepare yourself.
This is the style of hockey Dave Hakstol wants his Flyers playing the remainder of the season.
It’s not overly exciting.
It’s defensive hockey. And it gives them a chance to get points every night.
One-man forecheck. Defensemen not pinching. Making quick judgments whether or not to commit to a battle on the wall near the blue line if the outcome is in doubt.
The downside, as the Flyers saw firsthand in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Wells Fargo Center, is your offense is greatly restrained.
“We’re trying to put more pressure and create more turnovers, but at the same time, guys are responsible defensively,” said checking line center Sean Couturier. “The 50/50 battles where you are hesitatant, you’re better off backing off and playing it safe. We limited turnovers and scoring chances that way.”
This style will earn the Flyers points.
That said, it was largely goalie Michal Neuvirth who earned this one point with a half-dozen incredible saves just to get the game into OT.
He had Jeff Carter, who scored the game winner at 2:35, talking to himself. Carter had eight of the 28 shots the Kings unloaded.
Conversely,  the Flyers focused on defense with 29 blocks versus just 17 shots on goalie Peter Budaj, who paled in comparison to Neuvirth in terms of scoring chances he faced.
“He played unbelievable; he made huge saves,” Mark Streit said of his goaltender. “He was already down and he still made saves. Helped us big time. That is what you need this time of year.
“Big goaltending. He was in charge and he was calm. Always in good positioning and not scrambling out there. I was impressed with his game.”
Neuvirth’s first huge moment came in the second period when Jakub Voracek turned the puck over coming out of his end directly to Dustin Brown in the slot. Neuvirth had a diving, outstretched glove snare of the shot. Brown skated past him and looked back in stunned disbelief.
He had a similar save on Tanner Pearson and even Carter in overtime. Making consecutive starts for the first time since early November, Neuvirth was rock solid in net and likely starts Monday against St. Louis, too.
He is 2-0-1 in this brief three-game stretch with a 0.99 goals against average and .958 save percentage.
“He had a calmness to his game today,” Hakstol said. “That’s an important aspect. Three or four big saves for us and a bunch of other pretty good ones.
“He went out and did his job. He was one of the group who went out and battled as hard as he could. He was a big part of us gaining one point.”

The Kings are a bigger, stronger, more physical bunch. They came at the Flyers hard in the opening period with a strong forecheck backed up by significant pressure outside the blue line. Not a trap, but certainly a full press that caused the Flyers repeated problems on the breakout.
“They play a hard, heavy style when you look at the makeup of their team,” Hakstol said. “They’re built that way. This time of year, there is less and less space.”
Through 40 minutes, what few times the Flyers had the puck in the Kings end they lacked for sustained puck possession and zone time.
Both teams traded scoring chances in the opening minutes of the second period as Tyler Taffoli ripped a shot off the crossbar and carom became a breakaway from Sean Couturier the other way with him smacking the left post.
Couturier’s breakaway was the Flyers' best scoring chance.
“A tight game, I don’t think they had more either but more shots,” Couturier said. “Scoring chances? It was pretty even and tight out there. Not a whole lot of space. Like a playoff game. At the end of the day, we have to find a way to win those games.
“We let a point slip but we can’t be down on ourselves. It’s a good team and veteran experience team. They’re a playoff team. We battled hard. It could have gone either way.”
His breakaway illustrated a problem the Flyers faced in this game – no follow shots.  It happened all afternoon.
The Flyers wasted a golden chance to break the scoreless tie early in the third period with a power play as they abused the puck with turnovers and poor choices on passes amid pressure.
“They always make you make an extra play,” Voracek noted. “That’s the way it is. We didn’t have many shots and a few quality chances. Coots hits the post. We couldn’t capitalize.”
Less offense and more defense equals more points for the Flyers right now.
“We want to jump into the play and create offense and be the fourth guy on the rush but at the same time, you don’t want to get caught out there,” Streit said.
“Same on the pinches. When you are not sure, just pull back. Play it safe ... We have to build on that.”

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.