Flyers

Flyers-Hurricanes 10 observations: A look at what happened in 2016-17

Flyers-Hurricanes 10 observations: A look at what happened in 2016-17

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The Flyers' 50th anniversary season came to an end Sunday night when the orange and black suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

This was not the conclusion Ron Hextall and company envisioned when training camp finished in early October. For the third time in the past five seasons, there will be no playoffs in Philadelphia.

With that, let's delve into what transpired in 2016-17 with 10 observations.

1. Before we get into the season stuff, let's touch on Bryan Bickell. The Hurricanes' forward played his final NHL game, as he announced Saturday he'll be hanging up the skates. This past November, the 31-year-old was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As Bickell was announced in the starting lineup, fans cheered heartily. During a stoppage of play in the first period, the Flyers played a video tribute accompanied by a message read by PA announcer Lou Nolan to commemorate Bickell. Fans gave a standing ovation, while players from both teams stick tapped (see video). Bickell scored in the shootout, too. Awesome job, all the way around.

2. The Flyers finished 39-33-10 with 88 points. Last season, they went 41-27-14 with 96 points. Compared to last season, their goal scoring stayed just about the same and in the bottom 10 of the NHL. The power play, after starting so well, dropped a bit. The penalty kill saw minuscule improvement. The biggest difference turned out to be 2.56 goals against last season compared to 2.82 this season. Last month, Hextall said the Flyers "want to get better every year, get younger every year -- that's the goal." They saw some youth infused from start to finish, but they did not get better. This season was one of regression in many, many ways. For Hextall, no one said it would be easy, right?

3. Claude Giroux went scoreless, meaning he set a new career low for goals in a full season at 14. His previous season worst was 16 in 2009-10. Giroux simply didn't look himself this season -- oftentimes, he blended in and star players typically don't. Last month, Giroux admitted offseason hip and abdominal surgeries took some toll, both mentally and physically. Still, he's only 29 years old. And you know next season, his work ethic will have him in tip-top shape physically. Giroux cares and he fuels on motivation. He'll have plenty this offseason.

4. Wayne Simmonds did his part. His energy was there night in and night out when the team didn't always bring the same. He played all 82 games and nearly matched his career-high 32 goals with 31 this season after potting a marker Sunday. He also represented the franchise splendidly at the All-Star Game, earning the MVP honors. Not that many have doubted this, but this guy is a part of the team's future. A lot left for Simmonds.

5. At development camp in July, Robert Hagg said his goal for the year was to make his NHL debut. Well, he accomplished that on the final day of the regular season. The 22-year-old defenseman was called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and paired with Shayne Gostisbehere in the Flyers' season finale. He also saw time alongside Ivan Provorov. A nice little audition of sorts for Hagg, who marked the third Flyers rookie to make his NHL debut this week. That at least made things interesting. Hagg looked fine and there's a lot to like with his honest game and 6-foot-2 frame.

6. An obvious positive this season: Provorov. He opened the season as a 19-year-old and finished it as a 20-year-old Barry Ashbee Award winner (Flyers' top defenseman). Provorov played all 82 games and led the Flyers in ice time per game at 21:58 -- a franchise rookie record. He will continue to push the team's rebuild forward by spearheading the group of blueliners.

7. Dale Weise netted his seventh and eighth goals of the season. Nonetheless, Weise was disappointing in Year 1 with the Flyers. He played only 64 games because of some healthy scratches. He posted eight goals, seven assists and 39 penalty minutes. Last season, in just 56 games with the Canadiens (he spent 15 with the Blackhawks), Weise had 14 goals, 12 assists and 22 penalty minutes. And, hey, it wasn't long ago when he was a plus-21 (29 points, 10 goals, 19 assists) in 79 games of 2014-15. After signing a four-year, $9.4 million deal with the Flyers last offseason, he will really have to prove himself in 2017-18.

8. Anthony Stolarz didn't put on the best final act, but he's expected to make a serious case for the big club next season. He stoned a breakaway attempt in overtime and converted 32 saves in the finale. The 23-year-old more than held his own in seven games (four starts) this season, stopping 168 shots of 181 faced. For him to take the next step in 2017-18 would be lovely to see for the Flyers.

9. Gostisbehere made a heck of a play to facilitate Simmonds' tally. Sure, he suffered the proverbial sophomore slump, but he'll be just fine. He did finish the season with eight points in his last eight games, a good confidence boost heading into an important offseason for Gostisbehere, who turns 24 on April 20.

10a. Defensemen and soon-to-be unrestricted free agents Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz played what was more than likely their final games with the Flyers. For Schultz, possibly his final game of a 15-year career. He reflected on it all earlier this week. The Flyers should have at least two jobs open on the blue line come training camp -- which means more youth on its way.

10b. I'm guessing everyone wants Sean Couturier to shoot the puck more?

Claude Julien gets last laugh in return to Boston

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Claude Julien gets last laugh in return to Boston

BOSTON -- David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner each scored an early goal, Tuukka Rask stopped 21 shots and the Bruins beat Montreal 4-1 Wednesday night in Canadiens coach Claude Julien's return to Boston.

The surging Bruins have earned at least a point in 14 straight games (10-0-4), their longest stretch since going 15-0-1 in March 2014.

Brad Marchand added a power-play goal in the third period, David Krejci had an empty-netter and Patrice Bergeron had two assists for Boston, which posted its second win over the Canadiens in five days. The teams meet again in Montreal on Saturday night.

Jakub Jerabek scored his first NHL goal for Montreal, and Carey Price made 28 saves.

Julien, who coached Boston's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2011, was fired last Feb. 7 in his 10th season. He was replaced by assistant and current Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who opted for more up-tempo, charge-into-the-zone play from his defensemen as opposed to Julien's mostly defensive-minded style.

Rask extended his career-best point streak to 15 games (13-0-2), including a 4-3 shootout win at Montreal last Saturday (see full recap).

Ducks score 4 in 2nd period to beat Penguins
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rickard Rakell and Adam Henrique scored 1:35 apart to Anaheim the lead during its four-goal second period, and the Ducks went on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 Wednesday night.

Chris Wagner and Ondrej Kase also scored for Anaheim in the middle period, and Hampus Lindholm added an empty-netter in the final second of the game. John Gibson stopped 30 shots to help the Ducks improve to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

Anaheim scored four goals in a period for first time since doing it in the third period at Buffalo last Feb. 9.

Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game win streak. Tristan Jarry made 28 saves.

With the Ducks trailing 1-0, Rakell tied it on a redirect of a shot by Francois Beauchemin at 4:17 of the second. Henrique then put them ahead at 5:42, beating Jarry with a wraparound while the rookie was caught flatfooted at the opposite post trying to get his stick back.

Wagner scored on a short-handed breakaway to make it 3-1 at 9:24, notching the third special-teams goal of his career, all of which have come this season.

Kase's smooth breakaway backhand with 1:32 left in the period capped off the scoring deluge. Kase, who also had an assist, has five points in his last three games (see full recap).

Where is Dave Hakstol's sixth sense?

Where is Dave Hakstol's sixth sense?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Movie director M. Night Shyamalan may have created the sixth sense, and some of the more successful coaches in the NHL actually possess it. 

No, not the ability to see dead people, but rather, the recognition of assessing in-game situations and taking an immediate and proactive course of action before the team and the game itself begins to unravel.

Predators coach and former Flyers bench boss Peter Laviolette had an uncanny ability to utilize his only timeout at a moment when the team needed desperately to refocus during a stretch of poor hockey. Laviolette may have signaled for one during a lackluster first period or at the first sign of trouble in the third period.

He’d rip the gum out of his mouth and begin the process of chewing out his guys. His face would turn red and his temperature would rise as if it was measured by the red liquid in a thermometer. More often than not, Laviolette’s teams responded swiftly and appropriately to his message. He had an ability to seize the moment when others may not have seen it coming.

It’s a club Hakstol simply doesn’t have in his bag.

Hakstol prefers to hold onto his timeout predictably when the Flyers are down a goal late in the third period to draw up a play on the dry-erase board or to give his players a breather following an icing call. Rarely, if ever, is that timeout taken in an effort to overcome the opposition’s surge of momentum.

Same can be said for Hakstol’s decision to make a goaltending change.

In the Flyers' two most recent lopsided losses, both 5-1 setbacks to the Penguins and Rangers, Hakstol chose to pull Elliott after two periods with the outcomes pretty much decided heading into the third period. 

Regarding the Flyers' loss to New York Tuesday night: "We put [Elliott] in a pretty tough spot," Hakstol said postgame (see story). "Looking back on it, I could make the change after the fourth goal, but I felt like we put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game."

While every coach seems to possess hindsight, not every coach has the appropriate sense of foresight. Goaltending changes can be the result of poor play in net and Elliott wasn’t great Tuesday night, but the decision can also take on a dual-purpose. Give the backup playing time while also attempting to ignite a spark up and down the bench.

Send a message that it’s not the goaltender’s responsibility alone for digging this hole, but since he can’t bench all 18 skaters, bench the goalie as a result of everyone else’s poor play. 

In both losses to the Penguins and Rangers, once Hakstol decided to replace Elliott with Neuvirth, the Flyers were facing a 4-1 and 5-1 deficit, respectively, heading into the third period. The coach would have had better success creating a spark by rubbing two sticks together.

Over the course of an 82-game season, it’s important for a coach to remain consistent with his message. Over the duration of a 60-minute game, that message is tailored around the team’s performance. Moments and situations elicit when a coach should be bold with his words or more reserved.

Judging by his manner and behavior behind the bench, Hakstol’s barometer rarely tilts one way or the other, and the team has seemingly taken on the personality of its coach, especially at times when urgency is required.

“It’s got to be the same this time of year,” Hakstol said when asked about the team’s mindset following a 5-1 loss. “It’s never as bad you think and it’s never as good as you think. Address the issues, be direct about it, fix them and move forward.”

However, the Flyers are now 27th in the league when trailing after the first period and 25th when trailing after two periods. Against the Penguins and Rangers, the Flyers gave themselves no chance at forcing overtime when every single point matters right now, especially against the two teams they’re chasing in the wild-card standings.      

Hakstol can attempt to correct X's and O’s, but at some point, his decision-making and ability to put his finger on the pulse of his team will become an X-factor.