Flyers

Lack of communication a major reason Flyers struggling defensively

Lack of communication a major reason Flyers struggling defensively

VOORHEES, N.J. — Down-low coverage between the Flyers' defense and forwards has been a huge issue.
 
It’s partly why the Flyers' goaltenders were lit like pumpkins in October and why their goals against is 29th in the NHL.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol says it’s the most “prevalent” problem on the club right now. So what has to change as November begins?
 
For starters, the two defensemen and forward down low have to talk to each other and the goaltenders.
 
“We have to communicate more,” defenseman Radko Gudas said. “Lot of teams play the puck down low and go side to side. We have to communicate with the low forward and make sure we know who we have.”
 
It sounds fairly simple, but in real time under today’s NHL, which moves at lightning quick speed, things happen in a millisecond. That’s when the puck is already in the net.
 
“We have to pick up a guy and stay with him,” said Sean Couturier, the most defensive-conscious forward on the club. “What’s going on around us?
 
“Maybe a little too much puck-watching right now. We’re letting guys get open too easily. Obviously, it’s a problem.”
 
He also feels players need to focus more on their own situation.
 
“It’s communication, but it’s also being self-aware and knowing what is going on around you,” Couturier said. “You can’t just look at the puck. Even if it’s a 2-on-2 battle, you've got to find that other guy open in the slot somewhere.”
 
It’s one reason why Steve Mason faced eight open shots without coverage over four games in the past week. Things have to button down and as Hakstol said on Tuesday, “We have to do it quickly.”

Defenseman Brandon Manning, who has been the best two-way blueliner this season, said there has to be quicker decision-making.
 
“Between the defenseman and either the centerman or low forward, we need to sort it out quicker when two D end up in the corner or one guy,” Manning said. “A little more communication and it should become easier on everyone.”
 
The Flyers just came off three sets of back-to-backs in October and begin November’s schedule on Wednesday against Detroit in the front end of their fourth back-to-back.
 
They’ll face the Islanders on Thursday in Brooklyn. Michal Neuvirth will start against the Red Wings.
 
“We've definitely got to be tougher in front of our net,” Neuvirth said. “We’re getting scored on a lot with second opportunities and stuff around the net. We have to make it tougher on the other team.”
 
Mason, who had a very extended practice session on Tuesday, added, “We’ve created our own problems ... and it’s bit us in the butt and caused a goal to happen.”
 
Part of the issue here, in terms of corrections, has been the lack of practice time to work on making adjustments on the ice. There’s only so much video a team can watch. On-ice practice is a must when things aren’t going right.
 
Because the Flyers played 10 games over 16 days in October, adding in the back-to-backs and mandatory rest, they’ve had little or no real practice days.
 
On Tuesday, they got in a longer practice session which allowed Hakstol’s staff to work on some details of their game from the standpoint of execution.
 
“It’s been a very busy month with games and travel,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got an opportunity here over the next 10 days to have at least two or three quality practices, just like the one we had today.”
 
Practice doesn’t always make perfect, yet in the Flyers’ case, it might make a difference in goals against.

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

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USA Today Images

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

BOX SCORE

For the second straight game, the Flyers were forced to get defensive, and this time, they found a way to come out on top Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Wayne Simmonds produced the game-winner after taking a pass from Valtteri Filppula and snapping it past Cam Talbot with 2:15 remaining in the third period.

It was a tight-checking game that played out similar to what we saw Thursday against the Predators, as the Flyers held the Oilers to 24 shots on net. Connor McDavid registered four shots on net but wasn’t much of a factor offensively.

• The Flyers jumped on the board first with the help of their first power play when Shayne Gostisbehere’s blast from the point was deflected out front by Wayne Simmonds right to Claude Giroux, who corralled the loose puck and punched it into a wide-open net for his fifth goal of the season. 

Following an 0 for 5 effort against Nashville, the Flyers needed to capitalize on the man advantage chances.  

“We just have a lot of different looks this year,” Gostisbehere said to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Chris Therien during the first intermission. “We have so many plays out there. It’s harder for other teams to prepare for us. We’re getting pucks to the net and our guys are doing what they're supposed to do.”

• Former Phantom Patrick Maroon finally got the Oilers on the board with 4:23 remaining in the second period when he outmuscled rookie Nolan Patrick along the corner boards, coming away with the puck and making a move past Ivan Provorov, before putting a shot between Brian Elliott’s pads. 

Patrick appeared to have been distracted by a broken stick along the boards that made him hesitate with the puck. The Flyers' rookie center could have elevated the puck with his backhand, but by holding onto to it for a split second too long, he allowed Maroon to come up with the takeaway.

• The Flyers got careless defensively in the opening 10 minutes of the second period as defensive breakdowns led to some quality scoring chances for the Oilers.

• The Flyers did a solid job of containing last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner McDavid, primarily deploying Scott Laughton’s line along with the Sean Couturier line sometimes during the same shift. McDavid had some extended shifts — three even-strength shifts over 1:30 — requiring the Flyers to use a multitude of forwards and defense pairs.

• McDavid left the game briefly in the first period and returned midway through.

• Jori Lehtera produced his best scoring chance of the season when he took Radko Gudas’ outlet pass and attempted to squeeze through a pair of defenders. The plodding Lehtera was unable to gain enough speed for an uncontested shot, but with his strong forearms and hands, he was able to draw a slashing penalty and still put a shot on net. 

• Last season, Giroux didn’t score his fifth goal until Nov. 29th. 

• Both Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal missed Saturday’s game with upper-body injuries. According to general manager Ron Hextall, both forwards are day-to-day. 

• Referee Ian Walsh was honored prior to the game for officiating his 1,000th career game. Flyers captain Claude Giroux presented Walsh with a framed autographed jersey signed by the team with the No. 1,000 on the back.

Lines, pairings and scratches
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jori Lehtera-Valterri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hägg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jordan Weal, Taylor Leier and Brandon Manning

Flyers-Oilers thoughts: Welcoming the best player in the world to Philly

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USA Today Images/NBCSP

Flyers-Oilers thoughts: Welcoming the best player in the world to Philly

Flyers (4-3-0) vs. Oilers (2-4-0)
1 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 12:30

The best player in the world comes to South Philly today. Get your popcorn ready.

The Flyers, coming off a 1-0 loss to the Predators, host the Oilers in their first matinee of the season at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s Game 4 of the Flyers’ five-game homestand.

Let’s dive into some pregame thoughts before puck drop.

• Move over, Sidney Crosby. There’s a new sheriff in town. It’s time to anoint Connor McDavid as the best player in the world. Many already have. I’m fully on board now.

This kid is special, and each game he does something that blows your mind. On Thursday night, it was a ridiculous spin-o-rama assist against the Chicago Blackhawks.

What made the play exceptional was who he did it against, Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Between the two are seven All-Star Game appearances, two Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy, so that’s no joke.

McDavid has three goals and five assists in six games this season. He has 156 points in 133 career games. He’s 20 years old. He should be the face of the league yesterday.

Market him better. I don’t care that he plays in Canada.

• It’s time to put the Brandon Manning-McDavid storyline to bed. It was fun while it lasted, but it’s overplayed (see story). If Manning is in McDavid’s head, it’s not for the better.

McDavid scored a goal and an assist last season in Philadelphia in his first game against the Flyers since Manning broke McDavid’s collarbone with a clean hockey play.

Then, in Edmonton, McDavid had a goal and two assists. Manning played both games. So if anything, it’s adding extra motivation for the best player in the world.

• It appears Travis Sanheim will remain in the lineup, a positive for two reasons:

1. Thursday against Nashville was Sanheim’s best game.

2. Sanheim’s speed and skating is a plus when having to defend McDavid.

Will Sanheim see much ice time against McDavid? I sure hope not. But the Oilers are a decent skating team, and McDavid’s speed is insane. You want as much speed against them as possible.

• You sure hope Jordan Weal can return after missing Thursday with an injury to part of his body. Weal is an important piece for the Flyers, and without him, Dave Hakstol will have to shuffle up his lines. Simply can’t replace Weal with Jori Lehtera on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

That unit against the Predators was a disaster. If Weal is out again, I’d insert Matt Read into the lineup. He’s better suited for what the Flyers are doing now than Lehtera.

The good news is Weal practiced Friday. He’s expected to play.

• Three random Flyers stats:

1. Jakub Voracek needs two more points to reach 500 in his career. He will become the 23rd Czech player with 500 career points.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere’s 10 points are the most by a Flyers defenseman through the team’s first seven games dating back to the 1987-88 season.

3. Michal Neuvirth leads NHL goaltenders with a .957 save percentage. He was the worst qualified goalie last season in that category.

• The Oilers again will be without center Leon Draisaitl because of a concussion. Draisaitl practiced Friday but is still feeling symptoms. He hasn’t played since Oct. 9.

• Kailer Yamamoto, the Oilers’ 2017 first-round pick, has seen an increased role with Draisaitl injured. Edmonton has four more games to decide whether it’ll keep Yamamoto or send him back to junior. Yamamoto enters today on a three-game assist streak.

Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Jori Lehtera and Matt Read, and defenseman Brandon Manning.