Flyers

Flyers can still win with Claude Giroux, but youth is up against clock

Flyers can still win with Claude Giroux, but youth is up against clock

Ron Hextall sat at the press conference table and made his edict.

The kids are coming.

"Our young players, they've done enough," the general manager said Thursday at Flyers Skate Zone. "We'll continue to monitor some of them through the playoffs, but our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."

Those words should be momentous to Claude Giroux.

As the Flyers' captain heads into the offseason with a career low in goals for a full season and a third straight drop-off in points, many are pondering not only Giroux's future in orange and black, but also the club's future with him as its maestro.

The Flyers are now watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons, while their core continues to climb the ladder in age. This group of Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier has not won a postseason series since 2011-12.

It's clear time is ticking and the Flyers need more than what's here. Hextall won't make some sexy signing or big trade -- no outside ammunition because he's staying true to his mantra of building through the draft and the organization's youth.

"We're not going to put roadblocks in place where two years from now, we want to be able to sign Player X and we can't do it where Player X is a better fit than the guy we would have signed July 1 this year," Hextall said. "I think most of our moves at this point right now are going to come internally."

Which means Giroux's success and much of his legacy will be heavily reliant on how fast these prospects blossom into NHL difference-makers.

Yeah, no pressure, youngsters.

"I really think that we're not far off," Giroux said Tuesday.

The kids will dictate that.

Giroux can still win here. He's not getting traded. The plan is for the prospects to meet the core, and who says they can't?

There is a lot to like with the reinforcements on the horizon, players to augment the core and Giroux into his 30s. Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal are already here. Konecny, 20, has a full NHL season under his belt and we all know of the playmaking potential. Weal, who turns 25 on Saturday, showed his scoring ability with eight goals and four assists in 23 games as the Flyers went 6-2-0 when he lit the lamp. Oskar Lindblom, a 20-year-old wing prospect drafted in 2014, is looking more and more ready, putting up 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 65 SHL games this season, including the playoffs.

"Oskar, he's had a great year," Hextall said. "He's in a really good league. He's a good hockey player. He's come a long way since his draft year. The Swedish Elite League is a very good league and he's done a good job.

"I hope he's here in September fighting for a spot along with a number of other guys."

And the area most plentiful for opportunity is on the blue line. We all know the names: Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, just to name a few. A younger, faster, more versatile defense can only help as it gains experience. One of the biggest discrepancies from this season to last was the Flyers' allowing 2.82 goals per game compared to 2.56 in 2015-16.

Two spots have already opened up on the 2017-18 defense.

Yes, more youth will be surrounding Giroux and company as Hextall's prudence finally gives way to such.

"It's got to all happen together," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday. "It's one of those things that as a group, the challenge of 82 games of consistency is in front of us. You have to have both the young guys in the lineup stepping up and adding that energy and that ability and some of that youthful enthusiasm, and that has to work in conjunction with your veterans that really, as a group and as a core, are entering into prime years.

"The strength of that core group is what ultimately will drive our team. I believe the two can happen in conjunction with each other. We've got to go out and do that job."

Obviously, none of this means everything will magically change in the Flyers' favor next season. A touted prospect doesn't translate to immediate success and a better team. The Flyers aren't jumping into Stanley Cup contention overnight.

Remember this, though: Giroux is only 29 years old. Never one to admit injury, it was evident Giroux was not himself during the 2016-17 season, whether it was lingering effects from his hip and abdominal surgeries or a separate issue.

"When you try to do something and you can't do it; your mind wants to do something but your body doesn't do it, it's frustrating," he said.

What couldn't he do?

"I think just a little bit of everything," Giroux said. "Like I said, it's frustrating. But you've got to keep working on your game, get stronger and faster. I'm very excited to have a whole summer to work out and really do what I want to do."

Giroux fuels on motivation. This past season might push him more than ever.

"I don't think G had a great year," Hextall said. "He's not on the decline. I know this: I'll be shocked next year if you guys don't ask me in January, 'Well, how has G turned this around?' He's a very driven athlete, he's very driven. I know he's going to train hard this year. We're going to make some minor tweaks in how he trains. He trains hard."

As Giroux trains, the Flyers will start to change, too.

"Two years ago, we were the 29th-oldest team in the league," Hextall said. "It depends on how you crunch the numbers. Last year, we were 17th. This year, I think we were 12th and next year I would project us to go into single digits. That matters, being young."

It matters greatly to Giroux. How fast the youth grows up will matter most.

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

BOX SCORE

After watching what transpired over the last two games, there’s a strong feeling the Flyers played their final game on South Broad Street this season.

And for those who forked over postseason prices for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, those fans certainly didn’t receive face value for what they paid.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Flyers dropped Games 3 and 4 on home ice, and neither game was even remotely competitive. After the Flyers lost, 5-1, in Game 3, the Penguins dimmed the lights at the Wells Fargo Center and shut off any electricity the crowd was hoping to generate in Game 4 with a 5-0 shutout (see observations).

Simply put, the Flyers looked deflated and dejected knowing they would be forced to play without Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision but officially ruled out 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.

“They came out hard,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We kind of looked a bit flustered and I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”

Whatever rivalry existed between the Flyers and Penguins coming into this season was hardly recognizable in the four games played in Philadelphia (two regular season, two playoff), where the home team was outscored 20-4 (see story).

Just the mere presence of the Penguins in this building is expected to bring out the best in the Flyers. Instead, we saw them at their worst, and nothing irks Flyers fans more than watching Sidney Crosby walk out of the City of Brotherly Love with six points and two victories in a pair of playoff games. 

“It’s disappointing,” Dave Hakstol said. “You take that upon yourself. Bluntly, we’re not happy about it. It wasn’t good enough.”

The Flyers may have fed off the home crowd for one period on Sunday afternoon, but even as they barraged the Penguins with constant pressure, they still found themselves down 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. After a slew of penalties in the second period, the Flyers were never the same.

Disapproval poured down Wednesday when the Flyers flopped on their power play, which finished 0 for 10 in the two games on home ice, and the crowd of 19,644 booed unmercifully as the horn sounded after each period.

With the Wells Fargo Center half empty midway through the third period, the postseason frenzy felt more like a preseason yawner. 

“Fire Hakstol” chants could be heard from the upper deck — the first time that phrase echoed throughout the building since the 10-game winless streak in November.

Prior to this week, the lasting memory of a playoff series against Pittsburgh was Claude Giroux decking Crosby on the opening shift of Game 6 in 2012 and then proceeding to score the first goal as the Flyers eliminated their cross-state rival.

For whatever reason, the Flyers never evolved into a dominant team on home ice this season. The Flyers' 22 wins were the fewest of the 16 teams to reach the postseason and even three non-playoff teams finished with better records at home.  

At times, the Flyers played too cute or tried to execute too perfectly in their building, but in this series, it was just too ugly.

“Earn Tomorrow” was the Flyers' playoff slogan coming into this series.

After what the Wells Fargo Center witnessed this week, a chance at tomorrow may be too much to bear.