Flyers

NHL Notes: Predators know shutting down Penguins' stars not possible every game

NHL Notes: Predators know shutting down Penguins' stars not possible every game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have shut down the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan Getzlaf this postseason.

They have slowed down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Stopping them completely? Even Nashville defenders Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and All-Star P.K. Subban are susceptible to an off night as they find out just how hard it is to keep track of Pittsburgh's superstar forwards.

"It just seems to be like every second game, they're talking about how good we play defense and then the other game they talk about how good they are as an offense," Ekholm said Friday. "And that's just going to be like (that). It's world-class players. We can't shut them down game after game."

The Predators need another great defensive performance Sunday night in Game 6 or they will watch Pittsburgh celebrate a second straight Stanley Cup championship on their ice, in front of their frenzied "Smashville" fans, catfish and all. Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead Thursday night by routing Nashville 6-0 in a game that did more than just put the Pens a win from the title.

Ellis, who plays with Josi as Nashville's top defensive pair, skated only 10 minutes, 44 seconds during the loss. He lasted just two shifts into the second period before he went to the bench in pain.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette gave no update on Ellis on Friday. His teammates weren't sharing any information either. Whether Laviolette will start goalie Pekka Rinne isn't a question despite the 34-year-old Finn giving up three goals on nine shots before being pulled after the first period. Not with Rinne 9-1 at home this postseason.

Penguins: Crosby doing it all again with Cup in reach
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's teammates keep saying nothing ever changes with the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. That the secret to his greatness is really no secret at all. The Penguins believe he remains the same player and the same person every shift, every night.

In theory, yes. But not always in practice.

What separates Crosby is an ability to raise his play in lockstep with the stakes. His team's grasp on a second straight Stanley Cup tenuous at best heading into Game 5 against Nashville on Thursday, Crosby did more than send a message. He took over. And he led. In more ways than one.

Sure, Crosby dished out three assists in Pittsburgh's lopsided 6-0 win to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead in their increasingly coarse series with the Predators. Yet becoming the franchise's all-time leader in points during this Stanley Cup Final (surpassing his boss, Mario Lemieux) captures only a slice of the brilliance and brawn (yes, really) that pushed Pittsburgh to the verge of a fifth title.

There was his quicksilver first shift, when Crosby split the Predators defense shortly after the opening faceoff, then rang shot off the left post while drawing a penalty from Nashville's Ryan Ellis, who tried futilely to slow him down. Pittsburgh scored on the ensuing power play and never looked back.

There was his scrum behind the Nashville net late in the first period with frequent tormentor P.K. Subban. Crosby responded to the All-Star defenseman doing some "UFC move" on his right foot by trying to make Subban's face a permanent part of the ice.

There was the slick blind backhand pass to Conor Sheary just 1:19 into the second period that made it 4-0. Oh, and don't forget the water bottle toss just moments before Phil Kessel's first goal of the series pushed the lead to 5-0. He insists it was accidental.

Crosby only spent 18:03 on the ice during the rout. It just seemed like more.

"When he plays that way it's awfully easy to follow him," Penguins forward Matt Cullen said. "He's pretty inspirational when he plays that way and he gets to a level that not many guys can get to" (see full story).

Predators: Hockey, country music collide in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators' improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals has blurred the dividing line between music and sports, a convergence that's expected to hit a crescendo in Tennessee's capital city this weekend.

The thousands of fans in town to celebrate the annual CMA Music Festival have joined with thousands more hockey fans celebrating in the streets and honkey-tonks of Music City.

"Nashville is a hockey town; they are crazy about the Preds here," said country artist Darius Rucker, the former frontman of Hootie and the Blowfish.

"It's great for hockey for a Southern town to be that much into the team and into the sport."

Anticipation has grown with each game over which country music legend will sing the national anthem. Will it be Carrie Underwood, whose husband, Mike Fisher, is the Predators' captain? Tim McGraw and/or Faith Hill, one of Nashville's power couples? Maybe even Dolly Parton?

The Predators host Game 6 of the NHL Finals on Sunday evening as the country music fest holds its closing concert, headlined by Keith Urban and Brad Paisley. The entertainment district between the two venues will be packed: City officials expect 100,000 people to throng the downtown streets.

Country music fan Darlene Dye, who planned her trip from Dayton, Ohio, months before the Predators' playoff run, said she's enjoyed seeing the team embraced by country stars.

"Even the artists are like, `Go Preds!' And they're wearing their jerseys," she said. "I think it's a blast" (see full story).

Flyers-Panthers observations: Goals continue to pile up in 5-1 win

Flyers-Panthers observations: Goals continue to pile up in 5-1 win

BOX SCORE

The second period has been the knockout round lately for the Flyers and that proved to be the case again on Tuesday night.

The Flyers won their second straight game at the Wells Fargo Center as they scored four goals in the second period to crush the Florida Panthers, 5-1. They proved once again that their four-line attack is simply too much for opponents. 

Going back to last Tuesday’s game in Nashville, Dave Hakstol’s team has now scored 10 second-period goals in its last three games.

Starting for the first time in 12 days, Michal Neuvirth was a well-oiled machine and showed no signs of rust as he stopped 40 shots for his first win of the season. The Panthers scored a power-play goal with 3:50 remaining to spoil Neuvirth’s chance at a shutout. 

• Neuvirth stymied the Panthers in spectacular fashion in the early stages. He denied Derek MacKenzie, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov in the opening 20 minutes. It’s going to be hard for Hakstol not to reward Neuvirth with another start soon.

• The Flyers dominated mostly through their transitional game. One of the biggest differences in the opening month has been the Flyers’ ability to create quality scoring chances off the rush, and they dominated in that area Tuesday night.

• Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first goal of the season on a breakout after a nice give-and-go play with Wayne Simmonds. Jordan Weal deserved some sort of assist as he drove his defender Mark Pysyk into the shooting lane, blocking Roberto Luongo’s view. Instead, it was rookie Robert Hagg who picked up his first NHL point on the secondary assist that started the breakout. 

“We’re confident,” Gostisbehere said. “We’re riding high, but we have to keep an even keel and keep going.”

• Later in the second period, the Flyers’ power play went to work. After the Panthers’ shorthanded opportunity was thwarted, Valtteri Filppula fed a wide-open Claude Giroux, who beat Luongo through an exposed five-hole. Giroux pumped his fist in celebration, displaying some confidence that was lacking for most of last season.

• The prettiest scoring play of the night was reserved for the Flyers’ fourth goal. That play started when Travis Konecny outraced the defense for a breakaway that Luongo denied. A trailing Nolan Patrick fed a pass between his legs to Dale Weise, who slipped a wrist shot past Luongo. Patrick’s second career assist was proof of the hockey sense to know where his teammates are on the ice and a credit to his unselfish play (see video).

• Simmonds capped the entertainment value on this night when he roughed up the Panthers’ newest “enforcer” Michael Haley, dropping him to the ice following a series of rights. Haley joined the Panthers in the offseason after he was second in the NHL last season with 16 fights.

Simmonds was last on the ice around midway through the third period. He was taken out for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury. A further update will be provided in the next two days.

• Sean Couturier’s office appears to be anywhere there’s blue paint. The Flyers’ top-line center opened the scoring from the seat of his pants as he was left alone in front, made a nice move and whacked away at a loose puck that just crossed the line behind Luongo. Of Couturier’s four goals, the puck has yet to leave the ice.

First-period observations
• If you’re going to get burned on a breakaway, better make it against a fourth-line center. Florida’s MacKenzie was denied a point-blank shot in the first period as Konency did an excellent job of racing back to get his stick on the puck from behind MacKenzie without committing a penalty.

• Looking for his first goal since the season opener in San Jose, Weal had two prime opportunities in a span of 15 seconds to score on the Flyers’ first power play. Playing his off wing, Weal misfired on one chance and missed the net on the other.  

• Panthers center Owen Tippett made his NHL debut Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center. Tippett was the 10th overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft, and he’s the fifth player from the most recent draft class to play in the league this season. Unlike Patrick, selected second overall, Tippet was a non-factor.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratched: Jori Lehtera and Travis Sanheim.

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

Travis Sanheim likely to sit again vs. Panthers

VOORHEES, N.J. — It looks as though Travis Sanheim will sit for the second straight game vs. the Panthers tonight (see Flyers-Panthers thoughts)

Now, before you get angry — and fire off a hot take about Andrew MacDonald or Brandon Manning — understand this isn’t a death sentence for Sanheim.

The Flyers have played all of five games this season. Sanheim has played in three, and after a bumpy NHL debut vs. the Kings, the talented rookie showed growth to round out the Flyers’ season-opening road trip (see Flyers Rookie Report)

“I think that the L.A. game was a bit of a wash, with it being my first game and it not going the way I wanted it to,” Sanheim said Tuesday after morning skate. “But I thought the other two games, you started to see some more of the way I want to play. I thought even into the Nashville game, I got better that night, as well. I think that’s what you want to see with a young guy, is getting better every night and I’ll continue to do that.”

And after watching from the press box during Saturday’s blowout win vs. the Capitals, the Flyers’ top defensive prospect will get his chances ... at some point. 

“I don’t have a number for you there,” Hakstol said of when we could see Sanheim crack the lineup. “But your players have to play. That doesn’t mean they have to play every game, but certainly they have to learn, both off the ice, on the ice, practice, game-wise and continue to grow.”

So Sanheim — who is a minus-two with zero points — has to learn the NHL game. It’s not uncommon for rookie defensemen to struggle with the speed and skill of the NHL in the early parts of their careers.

“The position is a hard position to make the adjustment to and to learn,” Hakstol said. “That being said, I think your players can be successful in making the jump and making the transition.”

If Sanheim needs any inspiration, he simply needs to look a few lockers down at Ivan Provorov. 

Provorov made the jump straight from the WHL (junior hockey) to the NHL last season, and early on, it wasn’t a particularly smooth transition. The then 19-year-old bottomed out at a minus-5 in an October loss to Chicago but blossomed into the team’s No. 1 defenseman in the second half of the season.

Sure, Sanheim has taken his lumps this season, but he hasn’t necessarily been bad. Hakstol even went as far as to say that he’s been happy with the 21-year-old’s play.

“I’ve been very happy with him," Hakstol said. “I’ve been happy with Travis’ play. We want him to keep growing. He’s going to continue to be a big part of our group. He’s got a great attitude and a great perspective in terms of being able to handle all the different situations that come his way.”

Sanheim said the coaching staff hasn’t ordered him to focus on any one aspect of his game, but after Tuesday’s optional morning skate, the rookie stayed on the ice for an extra 30 minutes with the staff and Jori Lehtera — who has been a healthy scratch for all five games this season — working on clearing the crease. 

It all comes down to the numbers. And right now, the Flyers have seven solid defensemen. 

“The other night (Saturday vs. Capitals), obviously I wanted to be in the lineup, but we've got seven good [defensemen] right now and obviously there’s going to be a guy sitting, and it just happened to be me the other night,” Sanheim said. “It was a learning experience. I think I can gain a lot from watching and seeing some of those guys, how they handle themselves in certain situations and I thought I gained a lot from it the other night."

Not convinced? Last season, rookie winger Travis Konecny and second-year D-man Shayne Gostisbehere both served multiple stints in Hakstol’s doghouse — the press box — and have seemingly turned things around to begin this season. This year, Gostisbehere is second on the team in points with eight, while, more importantly, he and Konecny are both a plus-2 on the year — good enough for a tie for third on the team. So, like it or not, maybe there is some good to sitting a young player for a few games. 

“Ultimately, as a young guy, I think there’s a lot of things you need to work on and for me, it's just working hard in practice and getting better every day,” Sanheim said. “I just want to try and establish myself as an everyday player. 

“I’ve been through this before. My first year of junior, I didn’t play right away and I was a healthy scratch for five games there, so I’ve been through the process before and I understand the situation that I’m in and ultimately, it’s up to me whether I want to play every night and I've got to show them that I’m deserving of that and obviously, it's going to maybe take some time but I’m willing to put in the work.”

Projected lines
With only 11 players skating, there was no line rushes or defensive pairings, but coming off an 8-2 win, it’s hard to imagine Hakstol making any changes to the lineup. However, it looks as though Michal Neuvirth will get the start in net. 

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
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches
Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim