Flyers

Flyers begin crucial road trip with wild-card hopes in jeopardy

Flyers begin crucial road trip with wild-card hopes in jeopardy

From five teams to three teams.
 
That's how many clubs the Flyers now need to leap frog over to put themselves into the second wild card spot after Sunday night's huge win over the Hurricanes (see story).
 
Even though they are just five points out, because they have just one head-to-head game against a team ahead of them, the odds remain daunting as they begin a four-game road trip Tuesday night in Winnipeg.
 
"We've given ourselves a chance," Jakub Voracek said. "We got to get some points and hope for other teams to lose some games."
 
That said, if the Flyers can harness the emotion, the positive energy and strong play from Sunday's 4-3 overtime win against Carolina, perhaps they can do the unexpected and win out their final 11 games.
 
They will need at least nine wins to grab that wild card.
 
"We have to, we have no choice," said goalie Steve Mason, who will be in net Tuesday in Winnipeg. "This trip will probably determine the outcome of the season. Just based on this trip, there's very little room to make up ground. Four tough tests and it would be ideal to come away with four victories.
 
"Everybody understands the position we're in and what it's going to take in order to come out on top. We have to find that consistency. That is the biggest thing right now."
 
Toronto has 12 games left with 79 points. The Flyers blew their chance at a four-point game against them when they lost 4-2 on March 9 in Canada.
 
The Islanders have 11 games left with 78 points. The Flyers have one game left with them. Tampa Bay has 77 points and the Flyers have no games left with the Lightning. Three of the Flyers toughest games down the stretch come during this trip.
 
The two games against Columbus between now and the end both require wins.
 
"A big win last night but we have to forget about it and think about tomorrow night," Sean Couturier said. "Another big game. We have to win.
 
"If we lose, what we did yesterday is probably worth nothing. We've got to get streaky here and get going a little bit."
 
There was a ton of positive energy in the Flyers dressing room after Sunday's game. Same thing today at practice after their team photo at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
"It's coming off a good win," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a pretty strong group in here, mentally. Guys have showed up with a great mind frame all along. 
 
"We talked a little bit about the entire trip. Four games, that's an easy segment. Most importantly, look at the Winnipeg game."
 
If the Flyers win 10 of their final 11, they'll finish with 94 points. The Maple Leafs have a half-dozen tough games left, including facing Columbus twice, Pittsburgh and Nashville. They also face Tampa Bay which hurts the Flyers because someone -- maybe both teams -- will earn points.
 
The Isles? Just five tough games left on their schedule, including the meeting here against the Flyers on March 30.
 
What has to happen? Toronto, Tampa Bay and the Isles need to go on a losing skid with the Flyers nearly winning out.
 
"Nobody knows," Hakstol said. "We don't have a whole lot of margin, that's for sure. I won't worry about the next 11. You can't start looking that far down the road right now. We've got to be very ready to play a hockey game tomorrow night."

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl