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.”

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway


NEW YORK — Flyers players lifted their massive equipment bags onto carts outside the visiting locker room of Madison Square Garden.

There wasn't much energy or zealousness to such a mundane task.

Shortly before doing so, the Flyers made skating in the world's most famous arena seem just as mundane, allowing the New York Rangers to turn Broadway into breakaway on Tuesday night to the tune of a 5-1 loss (see observations).

"We just made too many mistakes that cost us," Jakub Voracek said. "Four goals out of five came off our mistakes, so it's tough."

The Rangers, not once, but twice during the first period, bolted behind the Flyers' slow-reacting coverage for nothing but open ice and Brian Elliott to beat. On both occasions, New York scored easily and took control of the evening.

It was a full exploitation of a Flyers team that had won four straight but wasn't "engaged in this game enough," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it.

With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest, Pavel Buchnevich fed a stretch pass to Rick Nash streaking up the middle of the ice, leaving defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the dust. Both the delivery from Buchnevich and the speed of Nash appeared to catch Gudas and Manning by surprise.

"The first one, probably a better read by me and Gudy," Manning said. "We talked before the game, we knew that's what they were going to do, they were going to try and stretch us out. That one we can probably eliminate."

The second was deflating in every way imaginable. As the Flyers sputtered through their first man advantage, a pass behind Jordan Weal bounced off the side boards and right to Peter Holland. With most of the Flyers' second power-play unit pinching on the attack, New York rushed up ice and beat Manning in retreat as Holland hit Paul Carey for a shorthanded marker.

Whatever life the Flyers still had, it was sucked out of them.

At the time, before it unfolded, they seemed to be in OK position. The Flyers were down, 2-1, but vying for an equalizer by turning to their power play, which had been 7 for 14 over the four-game winning streak. However, what transpired was New York taking a surprising 3-1 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

"Those are ones we can prevent," Hakstol said. "They're a good transition team, so when you give them opportunities, whether it's a turnover out of their defensive zone or a turnover entering the zone, they're a good transition team. But our awareness on those plays was not what it needs to be.

"I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas of the game that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team."

The Rangers showed it some more when they went on another semi-breakaway, this time midway through the second period for a 4-1 edge. Michael Grabner came swooping in to pick Voracek's pocket before quickly flicking a shot past Elliott, who watched another blue jersey barrel down untouched toward his crease.

"We put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game," Hakstol said.

The goalie making his 18th start in the last 19 games still took blame.

"It's not the easiest way, but that's my job," Elliott, who was yanked ahead of the third period, said. "I didn't have them tonight. Go back to work and try to feel good about my game. That's not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn't really give ourselves a chance to win and I've got to own a lot of that."

Tuesday marked the Flyers' first outing against the Rangers this season.

Were they surprised by the opposition's transition game?

"No," Hakstol said.

Manning sounded like he will be far more ready when the Flyers come back to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18 for the second of four meetings.

"I don't know if surprising is the right word, they have some guys who can skate and I think we were expecting that," Manning said. "We haven't played them this year, it's the first time. When you see it for the first time, it's something a little different."

The Flyers on Thursday night will see the Maple Leafs for the third time. The previous two matchups were won by the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Manning had his best game of the season with a goal, an assist and three hits in the October victory, while rookie blueliner Travis Sanheim played in the December win.

Hakstol will have to decide between the two for Thursday.

One will be an extra, the other will want to make sure breakaways are at a minimum.

Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

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Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

NEW YORK -- Damon Severson scored twice 1:26 apart in New Jersey's three-goal second period, and the Devils ended a six-game skid with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall also scored for New Jersey, which was 0-3-3 since beating Detroit at home on Dec. 27. Keith Kinkaid, getting the start after Cory Schneider was a late scratch due to illness, stopped 25 shots.

Anders Lee scored and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves as the Islanders snapped a three-game winning streak that started with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Devils here on Jan. 7.

New Jersey trailed less than two minutes in but got four straight goals starting with Palmieri's score late in the first period.

Halak, who faced more than 35 shots on goal for his 10th straight start, made nice stops on in-close tries by Brian Boyle and Brian Gibbons with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the middle period to keep the score tied.

However, Severson gave the Devils the lead about 30 seconds later as he got the rebound of a shot by Gibbons and beat Halak from the right circle. It was the defenseman's fifth goal of the season and first in 12 games (see full recap).

Spezza scores 2 after benching in Stars’ win
DETROIT -- Jason Spezza responded to being benched by scoring two tiebreaking goals on power plays, helping the Dallas Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Tuesday night.

Spezza scored on a lunging, one-timer below the left circle with 5:52 left in the second period. His first goal came on a redirected shot midway through the first.

The 33-year-old forward was a healthy scratch on Monday when Dallas won at Boston in overtime. He bounced back by ending his 14-game goal drought, scoring twice in a game for the first time since March 12, 2016. Spezza scored 33 goals just two years ago and has 323 career goals.

Dallas' Radek Faksa and Martin Hanzal also scored. Ben Bishop stopped 13 shots for the Stars, who have won six of eight.

Trevor Daley put Detroit ahead in the opening minute, but Faksa redirected a shot past Jimmy Howard at 2:48. Andreas Athanasiou pulled the Red Wings into a 2-all tie midway through the second period and Spezza's second goal 2:25 later put Dallas ahead 3-2.

Howard had 22 saves for the Red Wings, who had won five of their previous seven games (see full recap).

Blues rally late for overtime victory
TORONTO -- Alexander Steen tied it with 57 seconds left and Vince Dunn scored 1:43 into overtime, lifting the St. Louis Blues over the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Connor Brown put Toronto ahead on a short-handed breakaway midway through the third period, but Steen scored with goalie Carter Hutton pulled for an extra attacker by backhanding Alex Pieterangelo's rebound past Frederik Andersen.

Dunn snapped a low shot past Andersen after choosing to keep the puck on a 2-on-1.

Andersen stopped 40 shots and Hutton had 30 saves.

It was the Maple Leafs' first game back after the bye week. Their last game was a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 10 (see full recap).