Flyers

NHL Notes: Ken Hitchcock is returning to coach the Dallas Stars

NHL Notes: Ken Hitchcock is returning to coach the Dallas Stars

Ken Hitchcock is returning to coach the Dallas Stars, a person with direct knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press.

The Stars are expected to announce the hire Thusday, but the person confirmed the move on condition of anonymity Wednesday.

Hitchcock won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, coaching there for parts of seven seasons from 1995-96 through 2001-02. He has since coached the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues (see full story).

Sidney Crosby has NHL's best-selling jersey
NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby has the best-selling jersey in the NHL for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

The league announced Wednesday that shop.NHL.com sales show the Pittsburgh Penguins captain leading the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the most popular jersey this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews makes his NHL debut on the list at No. 4, followed by New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

The league says sales of NHL merchandise on shop.NHL.com during the 2016-17 regular season were up 14 percent year-over-year, while jersey sales rose 11 percent during the same period.

Weight loses interim status, Islanders' coach
NEW YORK -- Doug Weight said he hadn't thought about whether he wanted to return as coach of the New York Islanders while the season was winding down, but hoped to make a quick decision.

It took him just two days.

The Islanders announced Wednesday that Weight, promoted from assistant coach to interim head coach in January, was a permanent hire (see story).

Marcoux out as Hurricanes' goalie coach
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes are parting ways with goaltenders coach David Marcoux.

General manager Ron Francis said Wednesday that the team will not renew Marcoux's contract when it expires over the summer. Marcoux spent three years on Carolina's staff.

The Hurricanes ranked 18th in the league this season by allowing an average of 2.8 goals despite allowing only giving up 28 shots per game -- the fifth-best average in the NHL. They missed the postseason for the eighth straight year -- the longest active drought in the league -- and have made the playoffs just once since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Francis said goaltending is "certainly an area we've got to look at real closely and fix for next season."

Get in the holiday spirit with the Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers

Get in the holiday spirit with the Flyers

Before the Flyers get in the spirit for a sixth straight win on Saturday night, they’ll get you in the holiday spirit, too.

Prior to puck drop against the Stars on NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Flyers will put on a unique holiday-themed light show, which will illuminate the Wells Fargo Center and its ice.

The “Holiday Light Spectacular,” which is presented by the Rothman Institute at Jefferson, will be a 10-minute show starting at 7 p.m., as all fans will be given light-up bracelets to complement a fun Flyers holiday video featured on the ice.

“This show is a new, can’t-miss holiday attraction in Philadelphia and one that we hope becomes an annual tradition for us,” Shawn Tilger, the Flyers’ executive vice president, chief operating officer, alternate governor, said in a release by the team. “This show is in line with the holiday staples of the region, and we’re excited to bring entertainment of this caliber to Flyers fans here on Saturday night.”

For fans with youngsters, Santa Claus will also be in attendance, taking free photos on the main concourse.

Flyers grind for ugly win over Sabres to push streak to 5

Flyers grind for ugly win over Sabres to push streak to 5

BOX SCORE

It was a Flyers’ win with a capital “U.” 

That’s “U” as in ugly.

However, it was still good enough to beat the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, as the Flyers skated away with a 2-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night (see observations).

It’s the type of game the Flyers lost earlier in the season during their previous homestead when they came out sloppy against the lowly Arizona Coyotes in an eventual 4-3 loss in overtime.  

“I thought this was a boring game,” Jakub Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Nothing was uglier than the game’s first goal when Brian Elliott attempted to play the puck behind his net. Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons intercepted Elliott’s pass and fed the puck to Ryan O’Reilly, who had a wide-open, unattended net in front of him.

“They came hard and a little miscommunication,” Elliott said. “Bad play on my part and we did a heck of a job of coming back and tying that up. That can go sideways in a hurry. We sorted it out, but our first period was kind of sloppy.”

After Elliott nearly made the same mistake again in the opening period, the Flyers rebounded to the tie game at 1-1 as Travis Sanheim scored his first NHL goal off a feed from Dale Weise (see highlights). However, even Sanheim admitted, the goal was a silver lining from a dark cloud that was looming over him defensively with failed clears and breakdowns in coverage.  

“I don’t think we were very happy with our first period, especially me,” Sanheim said. “Minus the goal, I thought that might have been my worst period of the season, but I think we bounced back and battled hard in the final 40 and came through with the win.”

“He’s been pressing for a little while, so I was so happy to see him get a smile on his face,” Weise said of Sanheim’s goal. “That’s going to do wonders for his game. You see a shift after he gets another chance there. I’m so happy for him.”

Sanheim’s season in some ways has mirrored that of the Flyers’ schedule — a yo-yo performance with bouts of inconsistency. Coming off a 10-game winless stretch, the Flyers have now won five straight. Throughout both streaks, head coach Dave Hakstol has stuck with Sanheim when some coaches may have wavered. 

“There’s always lessons along the way, especially for a young defenseman,” Hakstol said. “He’s had some bumps in the road that every defenseman is going to go through. Tonight’s maybe a little indicative of that. Travis is always honest with himself and the evaluation of his own play, and for me, that always helps keep his feet on the ground and move on to the next challenge.”

“I want to make hard plays and I’ve got to make sure the puck gets over our blue line,” Sanheim said. “It’s easier to sit back and say I could have done this, I could have done that. Going forward, I’ve just got to try and limit those mistakes and try and play a harder game.” 

The Flyers eventually produced the breakthrough goal late in the second period on a tic-tac-toe play started by Michael Raffl, who fed a pass to Voracek and then onto Valtteri Filppula for the one-time goal.

“Those are the best wins,” said Raffl, who played in his 300th career game. “You’re pretty happy when you win 4-1 and you play your best game. It’s easy to laugh, but that was a war out there and the last period, especially, but we came together as a group.”

Of the 14 one-goal games the Flyers have played this season, this was just the third time they earned a victory. Many of those games when they failed to earn a winning decision came after regulation.

“It’s all about confidence,” Voracek said. “Two or three weeks ago when we went into the third period, we would lose that game. Now it’s about making sure those loose pucks get out of the zone and don’t make any dumb decisions.”

“I think it’s huge. When we were in that streak, we blew a lot of leads late in games,” Weise said. “Minus the last two minutes where I think we sat back a little, I thought we did a good job of moving the puck forward, forechecking and not sitting back too much. It’s more of a mental thing to win those type of games.”