Flyers

Flyers' NHL-leading scoring defense sparked by tweak in mindset

Flyers' NHL-leading scoring defense sparked by tweak in mindset

Heading into the Christmas break, there are some trends that speak positvely on the Flyers' defense, heading into what will shortly become the second half of the season.

Among them, is defensive scoring.

As of Thursday’s pre-Christmas finale against the Devils, the Flyers led the NHL in scoring by defensemen with 89 points.

Shayne Gostisbehere and the injured Mark Streit (left shoulder) each have16 points, followed by Ivan Provorov (15). Andrew MacDonald (11) and Radko Gudas (10) are also in double figure scoring.

It’s no accident.

The Flyers coaching staff asked their blueliners to be more offensive-minded in training camp this year, but only in tandem with the forwards doing a better job covering for them when they pinch.

“We talked about it in camp,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Being available. You can’t force something back there. Just being part of the attack and being there to support the attack when the play is there, absolutely, go ahead and lead it.”

Foremost, Hakstol still wants his defensemen defending in their own zone and moving the puck up ice as their initial responsibilities.

Second, he wants a third forward high in the offensive zone covering any D-man on the pinch.

“The two have to work hand-in-hand,” Hakstol said. “If you are going to be aggressive offensively and defensively, everybody has to be on the same page working together.”

Among those still in the lineup, Ghost and Michael Del Zotto lead the defense with four goals. Streit, who could return after the Christmas break, has the most goals (5).

Obviously, the attack mode perfectly suits Gostisbehere’s offensive game.

“He [Hakstol] definitely wants to see us jumping up in the play more,” Gostisbehere said. “We’re definitely a five-man unit out there and not just forwards and defense. It is something that is working for us right now.

“It helps us a lot when you are making a pinch and know a forward has your back. It’s a big thing for us. They are sound positionally. We take care of each other out there. One dives in, one backs them up.”

Whereas in the past, this was a hit or miss part of the Flyers game, it has become commonplace every period to see the defense an active part of the Flyers rush off the breakout, even on set rotation plays in the offensive zone.

“When we have confidence knowing we have forwards coming back we can step down on the walls, keep pucks in, keep pucks alive, and they know we’re going to step up in those situations,” MacDonald said.

“It makes it easier for everyone when you are on the same page. It wasn’t anything like, ‘Hey we need to be better offensively.’ It wasn’t an opportunity to go for it. We can recover, just make sure it’s the right time and you are not taking a big chance.”

As an aside to all this, Provorov, the only rookie defenseman on the club, leads the entire team in ice time average at 21:01. That ice time is also highest among any rookie in the NHL, whether a forward or defenseman.

During the Flyers 10-game winning streak, he had games logging more than 24 minutes.

“It doesn’t matter how many I get,” Provorov said. “I had a really good summer and I am in really good shape.

“I will play as much as I need to or the coaches need me to. In junior, my average? A lot higher than 24 minutes and lots in the playoffs. But it’s different here in the NHL than there.”

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.

Golden Knights make statement in clash of conference leaders

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Golden Knights make statement in clash of conference leaders

TAMPA, Fla. -- Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves, David Perron had a goal and an assist, and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 Thursday night in a matchup of conference leaders.

James Neal, Nate Schmidt and William Karlsson also scored for the Golden Knights, who swept the two-game season series with the NHL-leading Lightning.

Tampa Bay, coming off its bye week, got a goal from Ondrej Palat, and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots. Vasilevskiy, an All-Star this season, has allowed 19 goals over his last four games.

Fleury made a number of impressive stops, including a left-circle shot by Steven Stamkos and in-close chance from Nikita Kucherov during the second period. The goalie, who spent most of career with Pittsburgh, is 19-11-4 against the Lightning.

Neal opened the scoring with a nifty deflection 56 seconds into the first, and Schmidt made it 2-0 with 3:57 left in the period. Deryk Engelland got his 100th NHL assist on Neal's goal.

Vegas is 19-1-0 when scoring first, with the lone loss coming Oct. 30 to the New York Islanders (see full recap).

Devils beat Caps in OT on Hall’s goal
NEWARK, N.J. -- Taylor Hall scored on a breakaway 34 seconds into overtime and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Thursday night.

Sami Vatanen collected his third assist of the game on the winning goal, a shot over the shoulder of goaltender Braden Holtby.

Drew Stafford, Andy Greene and Miles Wood also scored for the Devils, who have won two straight after breaking a six-game winless streak (0-3-3). Keith Kinkaid had 16 saves and the Devils killed off all five Washington power plays.

Brett Connolly scored twice and Dmitry Orlov had a goal for the Capitals, who lost for only the second time in eight games. The Capitals, however, extended their streak of getting a point against New Jersey to 14 games (12-0-2).

Holtby made 28 saves, but gave up three breakaway goals (see full recap).

Panarin puts Stars over the top in shootout
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Artemi Panarin scored in the second round of a shootout, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Thursday night.

Joonas Korpisalo had 35 saves for Columbus (26-18-3), which returned from its five-day break after losing both ends of a back-to-back last week. Jordan Schroeder scored his first goal of the season in the first period.

Korpisalo blocked a shootout try by Jason Spezza before Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin came up empty. Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop blocked Jussi Jokinen's shootout attempt before Panarin beat him.

Korpisalo got the start ahead of Vezina Trophy-winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who struggled in the recent losses. The 23-year-old Finn got his first win in nearly a month in his ninth game this season.

Dan Hamhuis scored for Dallas with 2:15 left in regulation. Bishop had 25 stops, including a terrific glove save on Alexander Wennberg with 30 seconds left in the third.

Dallas (26-17-4) had won two in a row (see full recap).