Flyers

Late penalties cost Flyers in Game 1 loss at MSG

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Late penalties cost Flyers in Game 1 loss at MSG

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- It was both unnerving and shocking.

For more than two-thirds of the game, the Flyers had precious few shots, no forecheck, no puck possession and were being badly outskated by the Rangers.

Yet they were dead even on the scoreboard at 1-1.

Then it all blew apart with an accidental high-stick from rookie Jason Akeson and subsequent four-minute power play that saw the Rangers bury the Flyers with two goals en route to an embarrassing 4-1 loss at Madison Square Garden in Game 1 of the playoffs (see Instant Replay). The series continues Sunday at noon.

The Flyers had just 15 shots -- only one in the third period. No shots for Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Kimmo Timonen, Vinny Lecavalier …

Fifteen shots is the fewest in a playoff game since they had 14 against Montreal in a 3-2 win in Game 3 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist all but had the night off.

“Puck possession and shots -- we let them block too many shots in the first period, didn’t get enough through to the net and then I didn’t think we forechecked good enough after that,” coach Craig Berube said.

The Flyers were consistently beaten to the puck and lost whatever battles there were on walls, while the speedier, quicker Rangers had numbers on them all over the ice.

“Not getting the puck in, turning it over, we didn’t have our legs,” Berube said. “I don’t think we skated enough during any of the periods.”

Forechecking is something the Flyers pride themselves as doing very well. How could it have been so awful?

“I don’t think we had good enough support,” Wayne Simmonds suggested. “Our plan was to chip pucks in and as soon as we got pucks in, it seemed like they had three guys to our two. So we got to figure that out.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating. You’re not going to beat Lundqvist with 15 shots, that’s for sure. We got to do a better job next game. That’s why it’s a series. It’s not one game.”

Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said of the lack of forecheck, “We have to get back quicker on pucks, make better plays in the neutral zone and keep our gaps better. Obviously, things are very correctable.”

Incredibly, the Flyers were in the game for so long because of Ray Emery, who faced a barrage of shots (36). The third-period collapse was simply because of two Rangers power-play goals during Akeson’s four-minute high-stick that cut Carl Hagelin (see story).

“Ray played unbelievable,” Simmonds said. “He make the saves when he needed to. He made big saves. They had a four-minute power play there where they kind of stretched us out.

“They got two goals. I don’t think he really had a chance on those. They were crossing passes. He played awesome for us. He played unreal.”

The significant difference between Emery and starter Steve Mason, who is injured, is Emery can’t go post-to-post as quick and that’s what the Rangers did twice that final period when they scored four unanswered goals, including the second power-play goal from Derek Stepan that iced it at 3-1.

“New York is a good team at home and we’re aware of that,” said Giroux, as the Flyers have now lost nine straight here since 2011. “We have to do what we used to do and we’ll be fine. It’s not time to hit the panic button. Only one game.

“We didn’t support each other as well as we wanted to. It’s the first game. We will build on it. We did a lot of good things and a lot of wrong things, too. We’ll be ready for Game 2.”

This was probably a game the Flyers could have stolen, especially after jumping out 1-0 on a goal from MacDonald at 7:28 of the first period off their first shot. MacDonald’s point hit Marty St. Louis’ stick.

Emery had a great second period to keep it 1-1.

“We liked being tied going into third,” Emery said. “We wanted to have a better period.”

Instead, the Flyers accumulated 10 minutes in penalties.

A lot has to change to prevent this group from going back to Philly down 0-2 in the series and not lose a 10th straight game at MSG.

“You’ve got to play better than that, that’s for sure,” Simmonds said. “I think when we try to play simple.

“We got to get numbers. They did a good job tonight in outnumbering us. Ultimately, getting good breakaways. They fly on the rush there. It’s one game.”

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.

Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

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Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

On the first day he was officially a member of the Flyers, Jori Lehtera was literally pumped. So much so, the weight room warrior hit the gym that morning and slapped on a few extra plates on each side of the barbell.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘Do you know we’re going to Philadelphia?’” Lehtera said Sept. 11, after the first day he skated with his new teammates in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I said, 'That's good.' I went to the gym and had a little bit bigger weights than normal. It was good. I needed some change because my game wasn't that good there."

Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers from the Blues at the 2017 NHL draft in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the span of one year, Lehtera’s status has plunged from a top-line center on a playoff team to the 13th forward on a non-playoff team.

That’s not to say the Flyers have failed to recognize Lehtera’s skill set and utilize him effectively, he just didn’t show enough in the preseason to warrant playing time.

The fourth-highest paid forward on the Flyers’ roster has started the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. Dave Hakstol has opted for the speedier Dale Weise, who’s earning roughly half of Lehtera, who has a $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

Lehtera's opportunity could come as early as Thursday against the Predators. Wayne Simmonds left Tuesday's game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury.

If Simmonds can't go — the Flyers will have an update on Simmonds Thursday — Lehtera is the next guy up as Hakstol would have to shuffle his lines.

“I’m still excited,” Lehtera said recently. “Camp wasn’t good. I wouldn’t say terrible, it was OK. I’m kind of still looking to find my spot. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take my spot. Where it is, I don’t know.”

Lehtera bolted St. Louis, the city he spent his first NHL seasons, in a cloud of dust. His "Spirit of St. Louis" was completely sucked dry during his time there, as he finished the 2016-17 season with just seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.

“The whole season was a struggle,” Lehtera said. “I just couldn’t get everything out of myself. It wasn’t just a couple of things. It was a lot of big things, and a lot of small things together.”

Playing for Ken Hitchcock, who just passed Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has a way of wearing down a player’s psyche.

According to Hitchcock, who rejoined the Dallas Stars this summer after he was fired by the Blues back in February, Lehtera’s struggles were partly a result of centering the team’s top line with superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

“First couple of years there was no attention being paid [to Lehtera]," Hitchcock said in the summer, "and last year, there was a lot of attention of being paid. He lost his confidence because he was in and out of the lineup, so the line wasn’t that effective. The line got special attention for the first time. Because of the way our lineup was built, we were really able to take advantage of matchups.”

Lehtera and Tarasenko developed a lethal chemistry as teammates for Novosibirsk in the KHL, but it didn’t translate to the smaller NHL rink, where time and space to operate with the puck are at a premium. Tarasenko’s reputation quickly earned the attention of the NHL opposition and its top defensive players.

“You saw that chemistry right away,” said Brian Elliott, a teammate of Lehtera’s for two seasons in St. Louis. “They were a dynamic duo and then they were split up, and I think he was looking for that guy to pass to and things like that.”

Compounding Lehtera’s struggles was a concussion he suffered that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks in February. Once Lehtera returned, he was never quite the same, as he struggled with the speed of the game.

“We played him at wing after he came back from being injured, but his natural position is at center, and that’s where he played his best hockey,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a guy strong on the puck, good down-low player, he protects the puck well.” 

Interestingly for a guy listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and lacking quickness, Lehtera would appear to be more suited at the wing position.

And the potential opportunity Thursday alone may have Lehtera pounding out a few more extra reps in the gym.