Flyers

Which team ranks as Paul Holmgren's best?

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Which team ranks as Paul Holmgren's best?

Since he was installed as the Flyers' general manager, Paul Holmgren has been one of the NHL’s most aggressive GMs -- never hesitating to pull the trigger on a trade or to open the company wallet for a big-name free agent.

From the time he took over for Bob Clarke in October 2006, Homer has completely turned over the Flyers' roster during that time, and has just three holdovers from the 2007-08 team he assembled.

Here are my personal rankings for Holmgren’s teams season-by-season. I'll let you determine if the GM has improved the Flyers during his tenure or if the franchise has regressed.

1. 2010-11: (47-23-12), 106 points
Straight off its trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the 2010-11 team was Peter Laviolette’s first full year in Philadelphia after taking over in Dec. 2009.

The Flyers captured their first Atlantic Division title in seven years. They ranked third in the NHL with 259 goals scored, led by Jeff Carter’s 36. Danny Briere produced his best season with the Flyers, adding 34 goals, and Claude Giroux enjoyed a breakout season, leading the team with 76 points.

Defensively, the Flyers were stacked and, for the most part, healthy. Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn skated in all 82 games. Yet, Andrej Meszaros was considered their top defenseman (recipient of the Barry Ashbee trophy) in his first year in Philadelphia, as the team managed to play without Chris Pronger, who appeared in just 50 games. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky posted solid numbers with 28 wins, a 2.59 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

Perhaps fatigued from a deep postseason run the year before, the 2010-11 Flyers ran into a Boston Bruins buzzsaw and were swept in the second round of the playoffs.

2. 2011-12: (47-26-9), 103 points
With a myriad of offseason changes, the 2011-12 Flyers matched their win total from the previous year, while also establishing a franchise-high 25 road wins. For a team many considered to be weakened offensively after trading two of their top four offensive performers, the Flyers actually scored five more goals than 2010-11.

The offseason signing of Jaromir Jagr helped stabilize the top line, and 11 different players scored double-digit goals with production throughout the lineup. Newcomers Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier combined for 71 goals, making up for the losses of Carter and Mike Richards.

The team continued to play solid defensively despite losing Pronger to a career-ending injury. But Ilya Bryzgalov gave the Flyers some inconsistent goaltending during his first year season with the team after signing a nine-year, $51 million contract.

After knocking out the Penguins in the first round, the Flyers were surprisingly bounced in five games by the Devils in Round 2.

3. 2009-10: (41-35-6), 88 points
While an argument can be made that a team that came within two games of winning the Stanley Cup should be at the top of this list, they were also a shootout away from not even qualifying for the postseason.

Desperate for a spark, Holmgren was forced to make a change, firing John Stevens and hiring Laviolette in midseason. Clearly, the Flyers lacked unity and completely underwhelmed throughout the regular season, only to catch fire once the playoffs started.

Offensively, Carter led the way with 33 goals and Richards added a career-high 31. In his first year in Philadelphia, Pronger proved why the Flyers paid a hefty sum to acquire him.

But, to complicate matters, the Flyers were juggling three goalies on the roster and on the practice ice until Ray Emery was lost for the season with a debilitating hip injury.

Once the playoffs started, the Flyers were sparked by their epic comeback over the Boston Bruins and some outstanding goaltending from Michael Leighton, who posted three shutouts in the Eastern Conference Finals.     

4. 2007-08: (42-29-11), 95 points
This may have been the best team Holmgren has assembled when you consider the starting point from the previous season. The 2007-08 team made a 39-point improvement after finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference the year before.  

Holmgren was the architect who took a maverick mentality into free agency. He signed Briere to an eight-year contract and traded with Nashville for impending unrestricted free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, and added Joffrey Lupul and captain Jason Smith in a trade that sent defenseman Joni Pitkanen to Edmonton.

The Flyers caught fire down the stretch, finishing 7-2-1 over their final 10 games, and eventually rode that momentum into the postseason before advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Martin Biron was a steady presence in net during his first full season in Philadelphia, finishing with 30 wins, a .918 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average.

Injuries eventually caught up the with Flyers, who lost in five games to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.    

5. 2008-09: (44-27-11), 99 points
A slow start (0-3-3) couldn’t slow down a team that was stacked offensively on its top two lines. The Flyers produced six 25-goal scorers and could have had seven if Briere had stayed healthy.

The team received average goaltending from the tandem of Biron and Antero Niittymaki, who finished with an identical 2.76 GAA.  

However, defense proved to be the team’s eventual downfall. Aside from their top three of Timonen, Coburn and Carle, Stevens was forced to rely on a combination of Andrew Alberts, Randy Jones, Ryan Parent, rookie Luca Sbisa and Ossi Vaanaen.

Their lack of depth was costly in the postseason, as the Flyers failed to contain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during a first-round loss to the Penguins.     

6. 2013: (23-22-3), 49 points
The only Holmgren-built team that failed to qualify for the playoffs. A league-imposed lockout led to a 48-game shortened season, and the Flyers' failures began the previous summer when lucrative offers for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter went unsigned. The team was unable to re-sign Jagr and the Flyers' offer sheet for Shea Weber was matched by the Predators.

A 2-6 start proved too difficult to overcome. Players like Schenn, Couturier and Matt Read regressed from their first full seasons in the NHL. Meanwhile, veterans Giroux, Hartnell and Briere couldn’t repeat their performances from previous years.

Defensively, the Flyers were absolutely ravaged with injuries, as 13 different blueliners dressed. Without a competent backup, the Flyers were forced to lean heavily on Bryzgalov, who played in 40 of the 48 regular-season games and wore down over the course of the season.  

The 2013 Flyers finished six points behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Best of NHL: Vladimir Tarasenko records 4 points as Blues rip Oilers

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Best of NHL: Vladimir Tarasenko records 4 points as Blues rip Oilers

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko had two goals and two assists and got in a rare fight Tuesday night, helping the St. Louis Blues to an 8-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.

Brayden Schenn also had two goals and two assists, and Jake Allen stopped 26 shots for the NHL-leading Blues.

Tarasenko's fight came in the second period. In just the third scrap of his six-year career, Tarasenko tangled with Matt Benning and landed a solid right hand much to the crowd's delight.

Tarasenko was reacting to Benning's near-collision with Schenn that was almost a knee-on-knee hit.

It was Tarasenko's second career Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. The other one came on Nov. 13, 2014, against Nashville.

St. Louis (16-5-1) scored two goals in each of the first two periods before adding four in a wide-open third.

Tarasenko got his 11th goal 3:16 into the first period on two deflections. Shooting from the slot, he scored when his shot hit Connor McDavid's stick and then Adam Larsson's stick for a 1-0 lead.

Tarasenko has 14 points in his last 13 games (nine goals, five assists) against the Oilers (see full recap).

Stars rally for home win over Canadiens
DALLAS -- Devin Shore and Jason Spezza scored 59 seconds apart late in the second period to lift the Dallas Stars over the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Shore had no goals in the first 19 games this season, but scored for the second straight game to tie it 1-all at 18:22 of the second. Spezza, who also has scored in consecutive games after netting only one goal in the first 19, put in a rebound just less than a minute later.

Shore had an assist on Spezza's goal. So did Tyler Seguin, who scored into an empty net with 27 seconds to play.

Ben Bishop made 29 saves for Dallas on his 31st birthday. He allowed only a power-play goal by Brendan Gallagher at 12:04 of the second. Gallagher scored on a rebound after Charles Hudon sent a slap shot from the blue line.

After that, the Stars killed off all three Montreal power plays in the third period.

Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren had 26 saves.

Neither team scored in the first period. The best chance came with 2:15 remaining, when Mattias Janmark skated in alone on Lindgren, who stopped the shot with his glove and smothered the puck on the ice.

Montreal had a 4-on-3 power play to end the first period and start the second. The Stars killed off that penalty and finished 4 for 5 on the penalty kill.

The Canadiens had a scoring chance 4 minutes into the second when Brandon Davidson's wrist shot trickled past Bishop. Gemel Smith knocked the loose puck out of the crease for the Stars.

Gallagher had two close-in chances on rebounds after Hudon's shot and poked the second into the net for the game's first goal (see full recap).

Flyers blitzed by Canucks as losing skid extends to 5 straight games

Flyers blitzed by Canucks as losing skid extends to 5 straight games

BOX SCORE

There were so many mistakes to be found in the Flyers’ 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night that head coach Dave Hakstol surprisingly admitted even he could have done things differently by pulling Michal Neuvirth after the goalie gave up a third goal in the opening minutes of the second period.

“That one was on me,” Hakstol said. “I should have done that after the third goal to give our team the best opportunity. Once it got to four (4-1), it’s tough to dig out of that hole. The change after three may have been the spark that our team would have needed, but hindsight is 20/20.”

Starting for the first time in 17 days, Neuvirth was pulled with 5:20 remaining in the second period after making 18 of 22 stops. He wasn’t nearly a sharp as he’s been in his previous outings.

“Obviously, I need to be better than I showed today,” Neuvirth said. “It was difficult not skating. I had three days off over the weekend and I had one practice (Monday), so it was difficult. I need to be better.”

With Radko Gudas serving the second game of a 10-game suspension, the Flyers turned in one of the worst defensive games of the season as they allowed the Canucks a handful of prime opportunities based on turnovers, missed assignments and even a poor line change (see observations).

“We had a tough time starting in the neutral zone,” Jake Voracek said. “A couple of times, the defense tried to skate it through. We just didn’t generate enough speed. On the odd-man rush we had a couple of good looks in the second [period]. It is always more open in the second.”

The pairing of Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere had an especially tough time and it started when Daniel Sedin snuck behind Gostisbehere for an early, first-period breakaway goal.

“That first goal is probably preventable,” Manning said. “Me and Ghost talked about it and we can probably sniff that one out a little bit better. The second one is tough with the young guys trying to get off for a matchup.”

Canucks leading scorer Brock Boeser capitalized on a bad change from the Flyers’ defense when he rifled the first of his two goals far post over Neuvirth’s blocker.

“We gave up two easy goals that we didn’t make our opponent work for,” Hakstol said. “You’ve got to have one defenseman out there. You can’t have two D going. That’s the reality of it.”

“It’s just little details that are costing us games right now, and I think the PK needs to be better,” Sean Couturier said. “On the defensive side, we need to be sharper. Little details, whether that’s picking up your guy or chipping it out or line change. It’s all those little things that add up.” 

For a team that has been in every game at some point of the third period this season, that simply was not the case Tuesday night. Forward Wayne Simmonds admitted some bad habits are creeping into the Flyers’ game.

“I would agree with that,” Simmonds said. “We have to find a way to break those habits. We have to find a way to get a win here, no matter what it takes. We can’t be leaving them for 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s, 3-on-2s or whatever it may be. That’s going to hurt and it did.”

After winning their season opener in San Jose, the Flyers’ abysmal record against the Western Conference dropped to 5-8-4. They’re currently the only team in the Metropolitan Division with more regulation losses than regulation wins. 

“You’ve got to own it,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got to do better. You can’t sit back and rest on a lack of confidence. You give yourself confidence by preparation, work ethic, togetherness and those are things we have to put back into our game tomorrow night.” 

On Wednesday, the Flyers will travel to Brooklyn to face the Islanders for just the second divisional game of the season after blowing out the Washington Capitals, 8-2, in the home opener at the Wells Fargo Center.

Changes coming?
While the rest of the team loaded up for Wednesday night’s game on Long Island, Flyers defenseman Mark Alt took his equipment with him as he’ll rejoin the Phantoms. With Matt Read clearing waivers, general manager Ron Hextall could quite possibly make a couple of call-ups from Lehigh Valley.

“You evaluate everything on a daily basis depending on what happens,” Hextall  said. “You just don’t know. Someone gets hurt, we just can’t put them on IR. We need the flexibility for tomorrow.”

Don’t expect defenseman Andrew MacDonald to be available until Friday at the earliest. MacDonald’s skating still isn’t 100 percent even though he has practiced with the team since last Thursday. 

“It’s kind of a progression thing and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll see how he progresses,” Hextall said.