Flyers' improved defensive effort pays off in win over Canadiens

Flyers' improved defensive effort pays off in win over Canadiens


A couple days after getting their doors blown off by the Hurricanes in Carolina, the Flyers settled into something that usually gets teams right back to winning hockey.
A tight-checking, strong defensive game all-around where the stat of the night isn’t how many turnovers cost you goals but how many goals you prevented by limiting shots.
The Flyers held the Montreal Canadiens to a season-low 16 shots — and fewest allowed by the Flyers, as well — during a 3-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday that kickstarted a crucial five-game homestand (see Instant Replay).
“We did a good job for 60 minutes just playing some tight hockey, a solid two-way game where we didn’t give up a whole lot,” Sean Couturier said. “We limited turnovers and had pressure in their end. It’s the type of game we want to do on Saturday [against Los Angeles].”
Couturier’s checking unit with Nick Cousins and Matt Read set the example by holding the Habs' top line to just three shots — two from Max Pacioretty, none from Phillip Danault and one from Alexander Radulov.
They also scored two goals, making their task even sweeter. Read had the game-winner with  a canon shot from the right circle that surely fooled goalie Carey Price. It was his first goal in 27 games and it broke a 1-1 tie at 3:32 of the final period.
Where has that shot been all season?
“All the way around, it was a pretty good play, a speed play,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Reader can shoot the puck.
“Sometimes when the puck is not going in the net, you have a tendency to shoot it less, even. Hopefully, one going in for him and he’s going to get that shooter’s instinct back.”
Also impressive was goalie Michal Neuvirth, who has looked strong in his last two starts.
Nothing Neuvirth could have done on Nikita Nesterov’s point-shot goal 4:51 into the period, as he was completely screened.
What made that play work was Habs defenseman Andrei Markov sealing off Jakub Voracek along the boards, so Alex Galchenyuk could whip the puck across the blue line to Nesterov. Little things like that tend to mean a lot.
Overall, it was a pretty dull, uneventful period for the Flyers, which was an improvement over being outskated and outplayed, which occurred in Carolina on Tuesday.
“This was what we needed because it’s what the back half of the year is going to be like,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We played our worst game of the year in Carolina and needed to atone. Tonight was a good start. 
“We got back to playing the way we were before the [All-Star] break and have to continue to play this way.”
Things get tight this time of year, as teams prep for the playoffs.
“It’s going to go down to the wire, so it’s going to kind of be playoff hockey,” Mark Streit said. “We just need to keep it simple and play north, get pucks in and go to work.
“Once we’re in their end, we can grind them out and create and we had some really good offensive zone time, especially in the second. It tires the other team out if you don’t have to defend. You play in their end and you are so much fresher in the end.”
Neuvirth kept it 1-0 as he made a glove stop on Jacob De La Rose’s breakaway in the second period, and then had a clutch save on Paul Byron in the third and then sealed the post on his follow-up to keep it that way.
“That’s a pretty good team over there,” Neuvirth said. “We didn’t give them much. It felt like we were playing playoff hockey. We played great defensively and waited for our chances.”
His save on De La Rose was critical because the Flyers tied it up late with a power-play goal from Claude Giroux. His shot deflected off Markov’s stick, then off Price’s glove at 17:50 to make it 1-1.
“We went back to playing the way we know we can, we did a good job of battling tonight and playing as a team,” Giroux said.  
“It was a real team win. One of those games where things were clicking, guys were focused and we were sharp.”
In the final period, Read fired a shot that, most times, Price handles easily but not this night.
“Yeah, he got it on a little bit of a knuckler,” Price said. “He put it in a good spot, right in the top corner, it was a really good shot.”

Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

CALGARY, Alberta — Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and the Flyers from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

"We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family," Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

"This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family."

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League's Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.

'Special play' by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux highlights Flyers' 4th straight win

'Special play' by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux highlights Flyers' 4th straight win


The entire play was a thing of beauty.  

The only debate was which part was prettier: Claude Giroux’s pass or Sean Couturier’s shot?

“I don’t know," Couturier said. "Ask him and see what he thinks."

“It’s a pretty special play to be able to get that puck into open ice to let Coots skate onto it,” head coach Dave Hakstol said.

After Couturier won a faceoff in the defensive zone, the puck eventually swung towards the far boards in the neutral zone. Giroux delivered a backhand pass between his legs and the legs of Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev before Couturier chased it down and uncorked a perfectly placed shot that found the top-right portion of the net (see highlights).

“The puck was rolling so I just shot as hard as I could,” Couturier said. 

"I saw Coots had a foot race and usually he doesn’t beat the other guy, but he was able to beat him there,” Giroux said half-jokingly. “He’s been playing great hockey and it’s fun to be on his line.

“It’s that kind of play that you can’t really describe. I’ll put it somewhere where he might be able to get it."

Couturier’s game-winner with 2:55 remaining in regulation Tuesday was part of the Flyers' three-goal third-period outburst on the way to a 4-2 win (see observations). It was the team's fourth consecutive victory, making it the first time since February 2014 the Flyers have strung together four straight wins in regulation, improving their record to 12-11-7.

The Flyers also snapped a six-game winless streak at the Wells Fargo Center dating back to Nov. 9.

“The last three games before this one, we had the lead and everybody bought in on how we wanted to play to keep the lead, and now we had a different test,” Giroux said. “We’re down a goal and guys just have a feeling in the room that we’re going to come back. It’s a good feeling right now.”

The Couturier-Giroux combination got the Flyers on the board in the opening period when Couturier won the draw in the offensive zone after sliding the puck behind him and Giroux finished with a one-time blast that beat Frederik Andersen.

“We switch around and try different things offensively,” Couturier said. “Having him on the right side there, G is ready for a one-timer if I win it and lucky enough the puck ended up right on his tape.”

Not only did the Flyers have a pair of first-rounders on their top line, Hakstol also elected to pair fellow first-round picks Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny on the team’s fourth line. Together with Taylor Leier they brought an element of speed and energy that led to the Flyers' game-tying tally in the third period when Konecny’s shot grazed off two Maple Leafs for just his second goal in his last 20 games.

“It was definitely part of our game plan to outskate their D and get in there,” Konecny said. “As a unit of three, we know we can cheat a little bit and get in on the forecheck because we know we can get back and defend in the right spots, so yeah, we were on top of them.”

“You guys can label them whatever you want,” Hakstol said. “They’re just one of our lines. We thought that line combination made sense with the speed and pace that all three of those guys play at. It’s one small tweak to our lineup that we made coming off the road trip out west.”

The Maple Leafs came into the game a little short on star power with top center Auston Matthews day to day with an upper-body injury. However, it hadn’t affected the Leafs in previous games as Toronto had a 5-0 record in contests Matthews had missed. Head coach Mike Babcock believed Tuesday night’s game was more of a missed opportunity.

“To me, we gifted two goals,” Babcock said. “The one tough play the goalie touched the goal and then the play where they come in, we are above those. To me, you can’t do that.”

The Flyers took down the Maple Leafs for the second time this season. They’ll meet one more time on Jan. 18 at the Wells Fargo Center.