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Flyers' 'best game' wasted by another meltdown

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Flyers' 'best game' wasted by another meltdown

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:24 p.m.

They had earned themselves a point. Maybe even a victory.
 
Now it was early in the third period and the Flyers were clinging to a 2-1 lead and likely thinking to themselves: Something bad will happen.
 
Sure enough, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin stood behind the net. Chris Higgins was in front flanked by Claude Giroux and Braydon Coburn.
 
When Sedin started to make to his right, Nick Grossmann challenged. That’s when Sedin found Higgins with a pass and he buried a shot on goalie Steve Mason while others watched.
 
“We had an unchecked man behind the net and an open guy in front,” said Coburn, who was minus-3 in the game.
 
Added Giroux: “It happened pretty quick, but obviously, [Higgins] has to be picked up.”
 
It was another in a growing list of deflating third-period moments, a stanza in which the Flyers have been outscored 10-2 and saw yet another good effort wasted.
 
Ultimately, the Flyers lost 3-2 to the Canucks on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Tye McGinn’s two-goal effort was in vain.
 
“There’s a couple of breakdowns there on those goals that we definitely have to correct,” coach Craig Berube said.
 
“Giroux and Grossmann got a little mixed up on who was going and who wasn’t going. Sedin went to the other side and Grossy jumped on him a bit. He popped it out.
 
“We got to cover them. Grossy should stay with his guy. And Giroux should keep pressuring them.”
 
And Coburn? He watched the lead disappear. For good.
 
“You got to take it to teams in the third period and win the game,” Berube said. “We’re kind of sitting back a bit and waiting for something bad to happen ... we've got to get over that hump -- be mentally tough and go out and do it.”
 
Once upon a time, the Flyers had swagger to go after teams in the third period. Now they wilt.
 
“Three years ago when I came here, we had that attitude that no matter if we were down in the third period, there was no hesitation that we couldn’t come back,” Jakub Voracek said.
 
“Last two years, it feels like we’re up 2-1 or down one goal, the team would tie it. We are scared to make something happen on the ice. We've got to stick with the same game plan for all 60 minutes.”
 
Almost forgotten here was Voracek and his line had a scoring chance and failed prior to Vancouver turning the puck back up ice for the tying goal. If the Flyers score, Higgins' goal doesn’t happen.
 
“We played our best game and it’s frustrating, and [Mason] made the saves to keep us in the game,” said Giroux, the Flyers’ captain. “We’re getting better every game, that’s a fact. If anybody knows anything about hockey ... we played our best game.”
 
For 50-plus minutes they did, until disaster struck. And they still could have won it.
 
With 8:21 left to play, the Flyers got a power play. This is when special teams has to make a difference in a tight game. Yet, the Flyers still struggle to get points, shots and chances. They had one shot that entire power play as their skid hit 0 for 17.
 
Of the two power plays the Flyers had on Tuesday, they managed one official shot. That’s unacceptable.
 
Soon after that last power play, Ryan Kesler won it on a series of shots that had both the Flyers and Mason scrambling. Kesler had two goals.
 
Vancouver gets up the ice quicker than any opponent the Flyers have seen so far. The problem has been what the Canucks do with the puck once there. It took the third period for Vancouver to solve its dilemma.
 
Berube said he wanted to see the Flyers get to the net a lot quicker than they have been, and get some rebounds.
 
That is exactly what McGinn has done since rejoining this club after being sent to the Phantoms early in training camp.
 
He scored in the first period with a diving backhand effort, and gave the Flyers a 2-1 second-period lead with a follow shot in the slot, as well.
 
So in just two games, McGinn is the Flyers' leading goal scorer with three.
 
“We have to shoot the puck -- that’s how goals go in and I’m just seeing shots from the far side,” McGinn said. “They are simple shots, but sometimes the goalies just can’t handle it and it pops right out into the slot and that’s where we need guys to be.”
 
The Flyers' lead off McGinn’s first goal lasted all of 10 seconds. Jannik Hansen’s dump-in pass after the faceoff took a crazy carom off the back boards as Mason was going for the puck behind the net.
 
Kesler was alone in the slot for an empty netter.
 
“You can't let things like that affect you -- you can't always control what the puck does,” Mason said. “You control what you do after that and I thought we played a pretty strong game.”
 
McGinn regained the lead for the Flyers barely two minutes into the second period.
 
Voracek drove hard down the right boards and angled a backhander that goalie Roberto Luongo tried kicking. The puck nicked Giroux and landed in front of McGinn in the paint. He made it 2-1.
 
The Flyers had a chance to widen their lead near the period’s end on their power(less) play, but the Canucks have the third-best penalty killers in the NHL at 90.5 percent efficiency and suffice to say, they showed the Flyers why.
 
“It’s tough,” Berube said. “I told my team afterward, just keep believing. We’re going in the right direction.
 
“It was a hard-fought game. When you play a John Tortorella team, you are in for a dog fight. We knew that. I thought our guys competed really hard.”

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

At this point, Brandon Manning appears to have advantage over Travis Sanheim

VOORHEES, N.J. — Brandon Manning won’t have to wait another 10 days for his shot in the lineup.

Manning was paired with Radko Gudas during Monday’s practice while Travis Sanheim put in extra work, suggesting that Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol will lean on the Manning-Gudas combination as his third pairing for Tuesday’s game against the visiting Florida Panthers.  

“To be honest, I think I have good chemistry with both guys, “Gudas said. “Playing with Manning, I’m a little more used to it. We played together for awhile the last two years. It’s a little more that we know each other already. And with Travis, he’s getting better every game he plays. It was fun playing with him and we’re getting used to each other.”

Manning started the season as the sixth defenseman in San Jose and was surprised his number wasn’t called again until the home opener this past Saturday.

“You start off the first game of the season and you pick up the win. To come out of the lineup is obviously tough,” Manning said. “I understand the situation. I understand the direction the team’s going, the value of the young kids and their development. You look at the Washington game and it’s a bit of a blowout. But after sitting around for 10 days, I felt pretty good out there. It’s a home opener, so it’s an easy game to get up for.”

Manning can see the writing on the wall. Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin are the future of the Flyers' defense. On a handful of other teams, including the Capitals team the Flyers demolished on Saturday, around the league, Manning would be a mainstay on the blue line.

The numbers back up Hakstol’s thought process. Through the first five games this season, the Flyers are 2-0 with a plus-8 goal differential with Manning in the lineup, compared to the games Sanheim has played in which the Flyers are 1-2 and a minus-2 differential. With Sanheim, the Flyers' even-strength save percentage is 73.3 percent (last on the team) compared to that of Manning’s 88.9 percent, which is currently ranked fifth out of the seven Flyers defensemen.

“I think Travis has played well,” Hakstol said. “I think his play in games and his practices have been good. We're trying to build our lineup each night to what we think gives us the best opportunity to win that night. Travis' play has been good and I’ve been very happy with his performance.”

It's not unexpected that Manning has served as the Flyers' steadier option in the opening month as Sanheim continues to acclimate himself to the NHL game, which has come at a different speed than the level of play during the preseason.

“That’s part of being professional,” Manning said. “That’s something I’ve learned in my couple of years here in the NHL. The situations I’ve been in, I think it’s all about how you react and how you handle them. You can sit there and be pissed off about it, but at the end of the day, there’s going to be decisions that [GM Ron Hextall] and Hak make that you can’t control. What you can control is how hard you work in practice and how well you play, and you prepare for those situations you’re going to be in.”

It’s a unique paradox right now. The Flyers need wins and Sanheim needs to play. At some point this season, everyone’s needs will be met.

Flyers finding their top-line center and 'Answer' in Sean Couturier

Flyers finding their top-line center and 'Answer' in Sean Couturier

VOORHEES, N.J. — Can Philadelphia accept two Answers?

The nickname so passionately attached to superstar Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, who had a bulldog tattooed on his left arm with “The Answer” inscription above it, has now been adopted by the Flyers for their top-line center Sean Couturier, but for far different reasons.

“We call him ‘The Answer’ because we feel he always has the answer for whatever you say,” linemate Jakub Voracek said. “We just make fun of him a lot.”

While players and media members were digging for the answer to a certain trivia question following Monday’s practice, Claude Giroux looked around for Couturier’s “wisdom” since, as the captain jokingly put it, “he knows everything,” including all the rules to whatever games the team play on road trips.

However, if the question posed coming into this season was about how to get Voracek and Giroux back to playing at an elite level again, especially at even strength? Well, Couturier has been that answer.

“One hundred percent, 100 percent,” Voracek said. “He’s a very responsible guy that plays very good on both sides of the puck and it shows. He creates more space for me and 'G' to go in the offense and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Saturday against the Capitals, the line of Giroux-Couturier-Voracek resembled something from the Legion of Doom era. After a pair of lackluster shifts to begin the game, the trio quickly shifted into overdrive and took over the game as it combined for four goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating against the top-ranked defensive team from last season.

Couturier scored twice against the Caps, including the game's opening tally, when he finished off a slick passing play between him, Voracek and Giroux by slamming home a rebound. He now has three goals and three assists on the young season through five games with his new linemates.

“I think they can bring a lot to my game and I can bring something to their game,” Couturier said. “So far, it’s been working pretty good. I think we still can get better — have more of a shooting mentality. My minutes aren’t changing. The quality of players I’m playing with are. Playing with two great guys, two great players.”

If the organizational philosophy was to establish a better 5-on-5, even-strength presence by inserting Couturier as the top-line center, then the Flyers came to the right place. In the last 24 games he's played dating back to last season, Couturier has eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points. Couturier is a whopping plus-27 over his last 26 games dating back to Feb. 28 of last season. Not only does he lead the NHL by a wide margin, but as the chart suggests, no one else is even close to Couturier's dominance:

Plus/minus leaders since Feb. 28

1. Sean Couturier (PHI) +27
2. Jaden Schwartz (STL) +15
2. David Savard (CBJ)
2. Brett Pesce (CAR)
5. Five players at +14

“It’s nice. I try to take pride in being a solid 200-foot player,” Couturier said. “I’m reliable defensively and offensively I can produce and help out, and so far, it’s been clicking. As much as they can bring a lot to me, I think I can bring a lot to their 5-on-5 game here.”

In a game where speed, skill and shot-creating ability are the dominant traits for a top-line center, Couturier is unique in that he doesn’t possess those exceptional attributes. He’s in sound position, defensively responsible and, when provided with skilled wingers, can generate occasional offense as a result of strong puck possession. If you’re looking for another No. 1 center with a similar game, then perhaps Carolina’s Jordan Staal would serve as Couturier’s closest comparison.

In the two-plus seasons he’s been in Philadelphia, head coach Dave Hakstol has seen steady improvement out of Couturier.

“I think he just continues to grow as a player,” Hakstol said. “He’s got a lot of games played in the league, no question, so he’s very much a veteran in that sense. I think he’s continued to improve his faceoffs. That’s one area where I think he’s continued to improve and has done a very good job, and I know he’s hungry offensively.”    

From the moment Couturier was drafted eighth overall in 2011 following back-to-back 96-point seasons with an average of nearly 40 goals a year in the QMJHL, the Flyers anticipated having a bona-fide goal-scorer on their hands for years to come. However, those numbers should have been locked up in a time capsule and buried in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center because Couturier was never asked to be that type of player.

Until Nolan Patrick arrived on the scene, Couturier was the last Flyer to earn a spot on the team in the same year he was drafted. Like most 18-year-olds who show up for boot camp, Couturier never questioned his assignments and took whatever duties and responsibilities he was given with an understood, “Sir, yes sir” approach, but in the back of his mind, he was always capable of so much more.

“I always believed I could produce offensively at this level, but it was more just the situations I was put in I think,” said Couturier, who began his NHL career as a fourth-line checking center. “Coming into the league, there wasn’t much room for me in the top six or top nine. I was taking whatever role I could to help the team and I think I did pretty good in a shutdown role.

“It did get pretty frustrating at times. People see you as a shutdown guy. That can be most frustrating at times. I don’t want to complain about ice time and stuff, but like I say, it’s always been the situation I’ve been put in.”

Now Couturier finds himself in a situation even Philadelphia’s original “Answer” could envy.

The opportunity to score more working alongside a very high-caliber supporting cast.