Flyers rout Islanders behind 5-goal 1st period

Flyers rout Islanders behind 5-goal 1st period


Dave Hakstol actually smiled at the end of his presser.
"It's old-time hockey," the Flyers coach said.
It was genuine Weise of Fortune for the Flyers, who thumped the New York Islanders 6-3 Thursday at Wells Fargo Center to remain six points behind Boston in the wild-card standings (see Instant Replay).
Now the bad, but the Bruins won once again to lower the Flyers' tragic number to four points. Four points by the Bruins eliminates the Flyers, who lose the first tiebreaker (wins in regulation) to every team ahead of them in the wild-card chase.
"It's tough," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We know we could be in a better position. That's on us. We can't control what other teams do … we gotta hope for some help."
Not happening. Just the opposite, in fact. Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay and even Carolina all won (see wild-card standings).
Back to the here and now.
It took less than nine minutes for 28-year-old Dale Weise to record his second career Gordie Howe hat trick -- and the fastest Gordie in Flyers history.
"I didn't know that," Weise said. "It's a nice record to have."
Wait, it gets better. The Flyers had two Gordies in that first period -- another franchise first. Wayne Simmonds added one, also.
The only other times this happened:
Jan. 9, 1972 -- Bob Clarke and Gary Dornhoefer both had Gordie Howe hat tricks during a 10-3 rout of the California Golden Seals.
Jan. 5, 1985 -- Lindsay Carson and Rick Tocchet had Gordies in a 6-3 win over St. Louis.
Weise's Gordie beat out Tocchet's, which took 11:02 to occur against the Blues.
Five different Flyers scored in a 5-0 start to the game.
Weise began with a goal at 4:30, his fourth in nine games. Weise later picked up an assist on Radko Gudas' point shot and immediately dropped gloves with Travis Hamonic to notch his Gordie Howe hat trick with a draw.
"Just a lot of credit to our line there, Cootsy (Sean Couturier) and Schenner (Brayden Schenn) on the first couple of ones," Weise said. "Obviously, Gudas made a good shot on my assist. 
"And then Hamonic kind of comes over and asks me for a fight. He's a good Winnipeg boy, so I thought I'd give him one there. … We're both from Winnipeg. I kind of got excited. I couldn't say no."
Thomas Greiss started in net for the Isles and left after giving up his third goal (Gudas) on just eight shots. Jaroslav Halak entered and immediately gave up another to Jordan Weal, who now has goals in three consecutive games.
"The last couple of nights we've had to watch other teams do favors for us," Weise said. "This is a team we are chasing here and we finally have the chance to gain some ground.  We knew this is a head-to-head matchup and we had to handle our business."
Since Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Flyers have scored 15 goals in three games. They could have used some goals in Winnipeg and Columbus, but that's old news.
"We came out strong and we came prepared and ready to play," said Couturier, who had the Flyers' second goal. "I'm not sure if they were ready for us."
Couturier has 14 points in 14 games. Valtteri Filppula has been a member of the Flyers for 15 games. He's helped with matchups, making things easier for Couturier and Claude Giroux.
Routs such as this tend to make it tough on the winning goalie because he's getting no action. That wasn't the case here.
That's because the Flyers coasted after the first period and were outshot 22-3 in the middle stanza. Steve Mason saved their collective fannies as he finished with 38 saves.

"It's really hard to reset after that. It's really hard on emotion when we come out early, a couple fights, a start like that," Weise said. "It's really hard to ramp up the intensity after that. We knew they would come with a push."

Mason had two saves within 10 seconds of each other -- on Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson -- both of which were rockets on open looks on separate rushes to keep the game 5-1.
"The second period, we were under pressure almost the entire period," Mason said. "We weathered the storm for the most part."
Hakstol knew that second-period letdown was coming, too.
"Human nature. No matter how much you talk about it, you want to have a different outcome and the intensity drops a little bit and that's all it takes," Hakstol said.
"When a team is going to push as hard as they did in the second, Mase did a great job to get through that."
Shame of it is, the Flyers remain in limbo with no clear path to heaven.

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said Wednesday. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year, it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kind of push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable is faceoffs — an area in which Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the top three once again barring injury.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,” Jakub Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over-backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago. 

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

With new identity, Flyers need to use Leafs win as home turning point

When the Flyers last skated off the ice at the Wells Fargo Center 11 days ago, they did so while being serenaded with boos from above, after losing their 10th straight game. This time, to the Bruins with another lethargic effort. The game prior, on Nov. 28 against the Sharks, the fans, like the angry mob from The Simpsons, were calling for the firing of the head coach with “Fire Hakstol” chants. The only thing missing were the pitchforks. (Public service announcement: Leave the pitchforks at home.)

On Tuesday night, the Flyers returned home from a three-game Western Canada road gauntlet with their fortunes changed and beginning a five-game homestand. They had won their previous three games and entered Tuesday’s showdown with the NHL’s hottest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, six points behind the New York Rangers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

For a team in a competitive rebuild that, at times, looked like one waiting for its coach to get fired, the Flyers returned home having stopped the bleeding away from their own building. Now, they had to bandage it there.

The Flyers did just that, with one of their most complete, 60-minute efforts of the season (see story). They dispatched the Maple Leafs, 4-2, to win their fourth straight and end a six-game home losing streak. It was their first home win since Nov. 9.

They took one penalty, albeit a costly one that would have sunk this team 11 days ago.

They outshot Toronto, 39-22, and threw 32 shots on net in the final 40 minutes.

They dominated puck possession and every metric proves it.

“We were playing some good hockey and I think our identity changed a little bit with that road trip,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re excited right now in the room. We played a lot of good hockey games when we lost, but we didn’t get the results and now we're playing some good hockey and we’re getting the results so we gotta keep building on this."

Now they’re getting the results.

The Flyers are on their longest winning streak of the season. They twice faced adversity Tuesday against the Maple Leafs and didn’t buckle.

Giroux scored the game’s first goal at 9:21 of the first period, but Patrick Marleau answered back for the Leafs just 27 seconds later. Eleven days ago, that would be game over.

Instead, the Flyers kept playing and closed out the period strong. Then, after dominating the second period, Jakub Voracek was whistled for a tripping penalty at 16:11, and James van Riemsdyk tallied his 15th goal of the season to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. It was a potential killer goal, one that would have deflated the Flyers 11 days ago, no questions asked. It came late in a period that they dominated. It felt like typical Flyers.

But the Flyers survived it. They escaped the period, went into the locker room and came back out in the third period right where they left off. Travis Konecny, who played just 7:20 through two periods, tied it at 2-2 at 5:36. The Flyers kept pushing and pushing. They were rewarded too. Sean Couturier tied his career high with his 15th goal at 17:05 for the game-winner and then Scott Laughton iced it with an empty-netter at 19:44. It was the Flyers’ first third-period comeback of the season.

“We’re working hard and we haven’t stopped working hard,” Konecny, who scored his second goal in his last 20 games, said, “even through [that] tough stretch of games and it’s finally paying off.”

This Flyers team is a lot looser right now. Winning does that. During their 10-game free fall into irrelevance, they swore they weren't playing poorly.

And once more, they echoed that Tuesday night, even after a win. Now, they're just taking advantage of the breaks, getting the bounces, insert tired cliché here.

“I don’t think there’s much difference at all,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “If you want to look back, I thought there were one or two nights where we looked tight. I thought on the last night here at home, I thought we looked like a tired and a little bit tight hockey team.

“We've taken advantage of a break or two, but I think most importantly, guys just kept their foot on the gas and found ways to win games here over the past few games."

Credit goes to the Flyers, the coaching staff and general manager Ron Hextall. They didn't panic when things were falling apart. Hakstol remained positive, harped on the positives. He promised they would get through it.

Hextall did the same. The GM, on several occasions, praised the way the Flyers were playing during their losing streak. For as much heat as Hakstol and Hextall caught at the time, they deserve recognition for their managing styles in times of dismay.

The Flyers' win Tuesday kicked off a five-game homestand that features three games against Eastern Conference opponents, and perhaps set the tone for the home swing.

The homestand continues Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres visit. If the Flyers play with the same effort they did Tuesday, the winning streak will reach five.

They’re taking fewer penalties, averaging 1.75 penalties during their current four-game winning streak. That’s a good thing for a team that’s penalty kill ranks 29th.

But what might matter most, is they're not chasing the game anymore. They're owning the puck and they're spending more time on the attack, and that’s a recipe for success.

“We’ve had the puck a little bit more,” Hakstol said, "and that’s probably the first place to look. We had a stretch there where stick penalties were getting us.

“Those kinds of penalties happen when you’re chasing a game, when you’re defending a little bit too much. It’s not necessarily the discipline side of it. We’ve had the puck a little bit more. We haven’t had to defend as much in our own zone.”